Carlos Hernandez came to the United States on vacation when he was 17 years old. The native of Guatemala was so taken with his experience that he called his dad several weeks later to say he wasn't coming home.
"He said I was crazy, but I achieved the American Dream ... I started working in a restaurant and fell in love with the kitchen," said Hernandez, who became a U.S. Citizen six years ago.
Since adopting his new country, Hernandez has opened seven restaurants in Connecticut including Penfield Beach Pavilion in Fairfield and Solun in Woodbridge. "This past summer I was four businesses at the same time," Hernandez said.
His latest is Tinto Bar Tapas, formerly Meigas, at 10 Wall St. in Norwalk, an emerging area of Norwalk that is witnessing a business resurgence. A number of new restaurants have opened and are planning to open there.
Tinto Bar Tapas chef and owner Hernandez offers a more casual approach to wine and tapas at the restaurant he opened about two months ago. It offers cold and hot tapas, or small plates, as well as main courses and beverages, all with a Latin flare. He serves home-made red and white sangria, and Segura Viuda Cava -- a Spanish sparkling wine, and a variety of mojitos, caipirinhas -- Brazil's national cocktail, and martinis. One, called the Jalapenotini, blends Jalapeno peppers, lime juice and agave nectar.
"We ask the customers how spicy they want it," Hernandez said.
The tapas are also Spanish-influenced. The menu includes aged Serrano ham, an assortment of Spanish pickles, Spanish cheeses, empanadas, tortillas, Piquillo Relleno or fresh duck confit stuffed with piquillo peppers and blackberries port reduction, and Paquetitos de Setas or crispy mushroom ravioli. Main courses include Cochinillo de Segovia or slow-cooked suckling pig, Paella Valencianan and Costilla al Fuego Lento or Black Angus short ribs.
"The flavor of a real fiesta," Hernandez said.
The 4,000-square-foot restaurant can also accommodate family and corporate events, and Hernandez said patrons can look forward to additional offerings on the menu and in the restaurant, like wine dinners, live music and flamenco dancing nights.
Hernandez said his restaurant serves top-notch Spanish fare without the pretense but he may have to re-think the restaurant's decor. Hernandez said Tinto Bar Tapas is already drawing a number of patrons from Darien, Wilton, Westport, Weston and Westchester County, but he's having trouble attracting the local crowd.
Hernandez said he wonders if people are intimidated by the white tablecloths, mistaking Tinto for an upscale, expensive restaurant. The meals are sophisticated and delicious, but they are also affordable and approachable," he said.
To make a reservation call Tinto Tapas Bar at 203-866-8800.