When the big, dull, brick wall was painted orange, it was clear the new restaurant on the corner was making a statement. Since Ola opened a year ago, it has created a lively cantina in Brooklawn, a neighborhood where Bridgeport and Fairfield overlap. This Nuevo Latino restaurant is colorful and fun, decorated in contrasting deep blue, glowing orange and vibrant red.
What else to order at a mojito bar than mojitos? The Classic is filled with fresh muddled mint leaves, ice and sweetened fresh lime juice. Tropical fruit juices flavor the mojito menu. The Maracuya mojito blends passion fruit and pineapple with lime juice, mint and rum. Ola's mojitos are a touch on the sweet side, but the invigorating mint and the tall, ice-filled glasses keep it all in balance. A sugar cane baton acts as a stirrer, and it's fun to chew.
Order sangria if you like it super sweet. There's a red and a white, and the plentiful, precisely cut cubes of apple and pear were a refreshing contrast to the fruit-liqueur-heavy wine.
We feasted on tapas, dishes as colorful as the décor. The orange hue in the empanada crust reminded us of Jamaican beef patties, and the insides had a similar creaminess, but it was spiked with tender pieces of steak (which is so much better than ground beef). The plump half-moon empanadas were deep-fried but greaseless. They were served with pepper relish, a tumble of red, green and orange peppers, onions, olives and capers in vinaigrette. It was a punchy counterpoint and we didn't leave a caper.
Cod fish croquetas, with crisp panko shells around fluffy potatoes and cod, were drizzled with sweet guava sauce. All salty-sweet, crunchy-soft desires were fulfilled. The arepa was a crisp deep-fried flat corn cake, topped with pulled barbecued pork, a pile of minced mango and pickled red onions. The rectangular white plate was showered with finely minced red pepper, and artfully dotted with mango sauce. So much good here, except for the too-sweet, American-style barbecue pulled pork.
Huaraches, the sandal-shaped griddle cake made of masa, appeared as round arepas the night we dined at Ola. They were heaped with a colorful and mild mix of vegetables: sautéed mushrooms, onions, spinach, olives and a little queso fresco.
Boquerones, white anchovies marinated with slices of raw garlic, were served on a slice of pale baguette redeemed by grilling. Ribs were sauced with sweet guava. Yes, sweetness is a theme. We did not venture into the entrees. The bounty of the tapas ($11 to $14 and, at happy hour, $8) and minty mojitos buoyed us.
>>Ola Restaurant, 694 Brooklawn Ave., Bridgeport, is open Tuesday through Thursday, 4 to 11 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 4 to 12 p.m.; and Sunday 4 to 11 p.m. Closed Monday. Information: 203 296-4884, http://www.olarestaurantct.com.