La Bodega Brings Tapas, South American Cuisine to Watertown

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La Bodega by Salts opened on Nichols Avenue and features food from Uruguay and from the Basque Country of Spain and France.

The owners of one of the Watertown’s latest culinary additions seeks to combine the food of two far off locations to town, featuring high-quality ingredients in a laid back setting.

Chef Gabriel Bremer and his wife Analia Verolo opened La Bodega by Salts in Watertown quietly earlier this year, and serve dishes from the South American nation of Uruguay and Basque country. Though currently in a soft opening, the restaurant welcomes diners four nights a week.

Bremer and Verolo met in Portland, Maine, where they were part of the founding team of Fore Street. For a decade, the couple ran Salts in Cambridge, a fine-dining restaurant featuring modern French and Spanish food with only a handful of tables. A combination of difficulties with the landlord and a flood caused by a broken pipe forced them to close Salts and seek a new location in the Boston area.

It took two years before they found the spot at 21 Nichols Avenue in Watertown, and nearly two more to get it ready to open.

“You have to do your homework, look at the community, see what it needs and see how you can enrich it,” Bremer said.

Opening an establishment like Salts in Watertown did not seem right, so Bremer decided to make La Bodega a more low-key, casual dining experience. He was inspired by one of the last special dinners he served at Salts, which he prepared for Ferran Andria, the chef of elBulli, a restaurant in Spain that was known for preparing some of the most innovative food in the world and for molecular gastronomy.

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The inside of the restaurant at 21 Nichols Ave. has been remodeled by the owners of the new restaurant, La Bodega.

Rather than trying to serve the famous chef dishes he might make at elBulli, Bremer went another direction.

“When it comes to the end of the day, he is probably jet-lagged, tired and wants some comfort food,” Bremer said, who added, “It was a fun, relaxing evening. Everyone had a blast. That was kind of the catalyst for what is going on here.”

At La Bodega, Bremer is serving tapas inspired by the Basque country, which lies both in Spain and France. Basque chefs insist on having fresh, top-quality ingredients, Bremer said. Diners can also eat Uruguayan food, which he describes as a meat and potato cuisine cooked with wood and fire.

The restaurant may be the only one serving Uruguayan fare in the Boston area. Bremer knows of places in New York and in Miami, but not locally.

He learned about Uruguayan food from his wife, who grew up there. Bremer has also made connections with wineries in the country and La Bodega’s wine list features about four pages of wine from Uruguay.

Verolo, an architect, and Bremer redecorated the space that has most recently been home to 21 Nickels.

“We came across (the restaurant) and we could see the end product,” Bremer said. “We liked the bones, and it is unique.”

The bar area features reclaimed wood and the 1950s rail dining car attached has been spruced up.

“It was used on the Congressional Line that linked Boston to Washington, D.C., and carried politicians and media,” Bremer said. “This car was used on the Senator Line and is an actual dining car.”

Eventually, Bremer plans to be open more nights, then serve lunch during the week and possibly on the weekend.

Fore more information about La Bodega, visit the restaurant’s Facebook page.

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