Merry Tapas

We all know what time of year it is: Lots of sleigh bells tinkling and herald angels singing, ye faithful coming and shepherds quaking, not to mention a downright orgy of fa-la-la-la-la-ing, rum-pum-pum-pumming, and — for Santa's sake — buy, buy, buying so everyone at the local mall doesn't wind up on the unemployment line alongside a million former real estate agents come January 2008.

And a merry bleeping Christmas to you, too.

But despite the pitfalls of an excess of political rectitude we now call the "holiday season," the tradition of giving gifts manages to salvage what is otherwise several weeks of annoying music, smarmy sentiment, and advertisements so ubiquitous and irritating you're seriously contemplating poking your own eyes out.


Copas y Tapas

98 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables; 305-774-0927. Open Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Therefore, in an effort to encourage ever larger outbreaks of seasonal largesse and reduce the number of recently blinded recipients of one too many ads for Hannah Montana dolls and Nintendo Wiis, we recommend a gift that keeps on giving: a meal at Copas y Tapas.

As a present to others (or even yourself), there is much to recommend when dining at this cozy, comfy little Coral Gables tapas bar-slash-retail wine shop. It's amazingly affordable, a significant attribute when most of us are staring up at economic solvency from the perspective of an ant's bunions. It doesn't require a trip to some super-giant-megamall, where you spend three days looking for a place to park only to find what you went there to purchase is already out of stock. It has no moving parts to fall off, no software to go blooey, no coating of industrial poisons painted on in some Chinese sweatshop. Best of all, it feels good to the giver and tastes good to the givee.

While you're checking the list of small plates, you should also be checking — twice — the all-Spanish list of wines, 100-plus bottles lined up on a wall like little drummer boys. It's a terrific selection, equally well-priced; $36 for a spicy, complex 2003 Muga Rioja Riserva is enough to make even the most curmudgeonly of scribes believe that Santa Claus is coming to town.

If you're feeling naughty, a half-dozen plump, succulent shrimp in a wickedly garlicky, wine-enhanced sauce will both please and perfume your palate, as will a trio of piquillo peppers stuffed with an ethereal puree of potato and pungent salt cod and set in a pool of creamy, olive-oil drizzled pimento sauce. Duck confit didn't quite offer the unconscionable lushness of the best fat-infused quacker, and its skin was thick and flabby rather than thin and crispy, but it was almost redeemed by the warm, vinegary, onion-strewn potatoes that arrived with it.

Making nice is CyT's Spanish tortilla, a remarkably light and delicate potato and egg "pie," and a "Russian" salad that is traditionally absent of anything identifiably Slavic (except for its reputed invention in Moscow) but has nonetheless long been a staple of Spanish tapas bars, a rich and mild-flavored mélange of mayonnaise-bound spuds, tuna, red peppers, olives, and peas. It partners well with any of CyT's bocatas, identified on the menu as "Spanish hoagies," of which the Imperial (gloriously meaty Serrano ham and nutty Zamorano cheese) and Pastor (highly seasoned, neon-red chorizo and more Zamorano) are excellent examples.

There is, of course, tiramisu for dessert (this supremely ubiquitous confection being the dessert equivalent of the undead), reason enough to ignore it and instead opt for a thick slab of flan with a rough rather than silken texture but deliciously sweet-bitter caramelized sugar syrup. It'll bring a little joy unto your world amid all this rampant a-wassailing and stuff.

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