Thursday, August 13, 2009

Ocho - Ballard, Seattle

I almost want to keep Ocho to myself, but the secret is bound to get out. So, you might as well hear it from me. On the corner of 24th and NW Market in Seattle’s Ballard Neighborhood, Ocho is serving up fabulous Spanish tapas, inventive cocktails, and a laid back atmosphere that makes you feel like you’re hanging out at your best friend’s house.

Ocho has a genuine spirit about it. They don’t try too hard – no neon signs or gimmicks – but when you walk through the doors the place immediately draws you in. Owner Zach notices every single person who enters. He’s an easy-going, laid-back, and seemingly stress-free guy who knows how to put together a menu and shake up a cocktail.

The first cocktail he shook up for me was the “El Picador.” It’s vodka, maraschino liqueur, and cucumber. As if the clean cucumber flavor wasn’t enough, this drink is garnished with a fresh rosemary skewered beet. The beet offers a contrast in color, and it begins to add a drift of pink “smoke” to the drink the longer it sits. This is a great way to start the evening.

The Setas de Jerez was first: Mushrooms sautéed in sherry, garlic, and herbs, then piled high on piece of toast. For such a small plate, there are certainly a lot of complex flavors and textures going on. The fresh herbs on top were the perfect the complement.

Setas de Jerez

The Pa’amb Tomaquet, Catalan Tomato Toast, was a plate similar to the Setas de Jerez. The tomato is a spread-like consistency and tastes exactly how you hope it will. It’s topped with a bit of white cheese. It was a tasty treat, but if you’re going to pick between this or the Setas de Jerez, go for the mushrooms.
Pa’amb Tomaquet

I was impressed with the Jamon Serrano plate. The cured Serrano ham is swirled around in a neat presentation with two slices of toast and fanned apple slices. The best part—the apples are topped with a sprinkle of salt and a drizzle of olive oil. I might start eating my apples like this at home! Dear Ben had a great idea, and we wrapped a piece of ham around an apple slice. You could make a little sandwich with the bread slices, but I didn’t waste room in my stomach on the bread.
Jamon Serrano

The Patatas Bravas is something that will please almost anyone. Potato chunks rubbed in pimentón, an essential Spanish spice similar to Paprika, and fried to perfection. The potatoes are served with two sauces, a spicy Brava Sauce and a cool Artichoke Aioli. I suggest you alternate between two sauces; they provide a nice balance. The portion is big, and we saw a lot of potatoes pop out of the kitchen.

Patatas Bravas
The Croquetas Burrachas were so yummy! It’s a classy take on fried cheese. Little balls of drunken goat cheese breaded, fried, and served with a red pepper sauce. The goat cheese is genius – it keeps it creamy texture even if it gets a bit cool before you eat. Don’t you hate it when the mozzarella gets cold and firm after awhile? Take your time with these little bites, there’s no need to rush.
Croquetas Burrachas

Right about now, I need another cocktail. I let Owner Zach pick for me, and he chose the “Dark and Stormy.” This is one of those drinks that you’ll want to try to recreate at home to impress your friends. It’s Gosling’s Dark Rum, Aperol, fresh ginger, and ginger beer. Aperol is a relative of CAMPARI, and I tasted it for the first time in Austria this spring – love it. The orange flavor of the Aperol with the ginger is kind of amazing. It’s definitely got a zip to it!
Dark and Stormy

Dear Ben picked the La Carolina, blue cheese stuffed dates wrapped in pancetta with a balsamic reduction. At first glance, I was a little shocked at how itty-bitty the portion was, but just one bite and I was over it. I loved the texture that the skin of the date provided in contrast with the creamy blue cheese and the crispy pancetta. The pancetta flavor ruled this bite.
La Carolina

The one bite wonder was next, Bandera de Boquerón. It’s a skewer of Spanish anchovy, roasted red pepper, and a fried artichoke half. You can see the skin of the fish, so it might make some nervous. If you can get past seeing that, you’ll find that this a one spectacular bite. This reminded us of a quote from Seinfeld, "They are real [anchovies] and they're spectacular!" The warm artichoke really takes over, and it causes and interesting taste sensation in combination with the cool anchovy and red pepper. Owner Zach says that he created this dish to help others get over their fear of the anchovy. It’s a must-try!
Bandera de Boquerón

The Pimientos de Padrón is a large plate of Spanish peppers seared in a bit of olive oil and sprinkled with Flor de Sal. The green peppers are about the size of your thumb. Some were mildly spicy and some were even sweet. Since they aren’t fried, there’s no need to feel guilty. Eat the whole plate, if you want. There’s sure to be some kind of vitamins in there.

Pimientos de Padrón

Chorizo seemed like something I had to get, being at a Spanish tapas bar and all. The cast iron baking dish included three small chorizo links, rustic tomato sauce, and a baked egg. The chorizo was not too spicy and not too fatty, and it had a soft texture. The baked egg was a little too done for me, but Dear Ben ate it up. He put a little bit of everything on a slice of toast and really seemed to love that flavor combination.


Owner Zach says that their Flank Steak plate is a favorite of some of their patrons. I was going to skip it, but with that kind of endorsement, I had to go for it. It a Spanish interpretation spiced with pimentón (See Patatas above). The small pieces were artistically stacked over an olive-pepper mojo with almonds and a bit of orange zest. It was fork tender and had a good flavor, but I’m not doing flips over it. I think it’s because the other dishes were more interesting.
Flank Steak

With all of that good protein, we felt like it was a good idea to slip in a vegetable. The Brócoli was quite good. The kitchen throws in a little escarole, garlic, and pinenuts to make this plate complete. There are even a few red pepper flakes for extra flavor. Dear Ben said this was one of his favorite dishes of the night.
Save the best for last, the scallops were my favorite of the night. The two half-dollar size scallops were well prepared and seared with a coating of black pepper. The plate included bacon pieces, heirloom tomatoes, arugula, and lemon. I loved that this plate had the classic flavors of a BLT and also managed to keep the taste of a bacon wrapped scallop. It was really so delicious.

I always need a little something sweet, and their dessert is a Pan con Chocolate. It's a warm spicy chocolate spread on a piece of toast and topped with crushed almonds and a touch of truffle oil. Spicy chocolate is a delight, similar to the salty chocolate than I'm currently obsessed with. That with a glass of Madiera was a wonderful way to end a wonderful evening.

Pan con Chocolate
Ocho, you make me want to quit blogging and just hang out at your place. The relaxed vibe, the exciting flavors, and the sincere hospitality create a package that you don’t find very often. It’s definitely one of my new favorite spots in Seattle!

2325 NW Market St (at N 24th Ave)
Seattle, WA 98107

Ocho on Urbanspoon

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