Beware all ye calorie counters & flavorphobes, authentic Spanish food does not shy away from garlic, chorizo, queso--nor pans sizzling away with heavenly morsels meant to be savored with gustatory joie de vivre--check your guilt at the door, please. And while I wish that there was a place close to my home in Skyway that could satisfy my Spanish cravings, the citizens of the Bryant neighborhood & neighboring University district hoods have reason to celebrate, for now there is Gaudi.
If you are new to the classic Spanish food served in most tabernas & have Harvest Vine expectations, Gaudi (which means *enjoy* in Catalan) may make you feel as sorely as a matador who has lost his first match in the ring. The space, formerly one of too many Italian restaurants (is Spain becoming the new Italy?) in a one-block duelling radius, is perhaps a bit formal (white starched tablecloths, elevator flamenco music, & fancily folded napkins) for what I had hoped after hearing about their menu, yet somehow homey never-the-less with a colorful hand-written kitschy tapas list.
(Pardon my declasse bias, as I have a spiritual connection with those ultra-thin napkins and squat toothpicks that you crumple & toss to the floor as you eat like the local do in real tapas bars. Some may think it a dirty custom, but I think it's bizarre fun to join in with the locals & make a big mess only to see the same place sparkling clean the next morning.)
While Gaudi offers a full menu with a few different types of paella & fidua (the Catalan version which uses small cappellini-like noodles) and other entree items, we were on a tight schedule & looking for some small bites to prepare us for a tasting of hearty South African wines. Fortunately I knew Jo, one of the owners, from her time at Tango and she graciously got us through a sampling of dishes in about 45 minutes despite the fact that she & her husband Joan were the only two working that night which only added to the intimate feel of the place.
Listening to Joan's knife tapping out the frenetic rhythm of a flamenco dancer's heels on the cutting board, I could have been in Galicia eating tempura-esque Chocos (cuttlefish) with a simple squeeze of lemon, or Gambas (shrimp) in a hearty garlic & chile pepper sauce that made me wish I had a basket of bread to sop it up--even Spanish bread, which in truth, sucks! The croquetas were a thing of beauty that made me think of Madrid, even if Joan is a Catalan--perfection with their panko-like crust, a creamy but ever-so-fluffy bechamel & subtle flecks of jamony treasure inside. I can cook most Spanish dishes at home with ease, but exquisite croquetas are a thing of art & something I've known people to work for YEARS perfecting. Sometimes the simplest dishes really are the best.
After all the fried goodness, we went for their Empedrat salad which is a Catalan bean salad, often accompanied with cod, but Gaudi's take favored remarkably ripe tomatoes (I always fear restaurant tomatoes this time of the year), garbanzos & tiny black beans with parsley & onions. What made this generous dish was a richly flavored olive oil that I will have to inquire about on our next visit and my leftovers alluded to the possibility of some anchovies which would make sense considering the name... I enjoyed this salad again for lunch today & thought the oil to be made with Arbequina olives, some of the most buttery types I've tasted.
And while I could hardly call it healthful, our last dish, a Guiso (or stew) of spring peas, fennel, favas, dill & mint managed to be devoured shortly after it was delivered to our table. I was thinking veggies when we chose this special, but the broiled cheese & cream sauce made this decadent as Kobe beef. How our spoons managed to finish this off may have had a strong corollation to the strength of Jo's house-made sangria. Half a pitcher may have sent us to our knees, but we sadly left the remains untouched as we had wine business in store.
Clearly these folks are developing a following of personal clientele--while one well-suited couple walked in & walked out after looking at the menu, others were back & already on a first name basis with Jo. I wanted to chase that SUV down the street & extoll the virtues of true Iberian cuisine, but then again, when in Seattle, do as proper Spainards do--relax & Gaudi!