By all rights, Spanish food should be huge in Seattle: It’s warming, seafood-heavy, and rich—characteristics we tend to favor in the food we eat out.
Instead—with a few notable exceptions—we’ve never had much in the way of Spanish restaurants. The exceptions are famous ones, led by the inimitable and genuinely stunning Harvest Vine in the Madison Valley, followed by impressive small-plate bars like Pintxo and Ocho. The famous Valencian rice dish, paella, one can get here and there—the pan-Latin Tango on Capitol Hill, the pan-Mediterranean Andaluca downtown, the global Terra Plata on Mondays—but in the main, Spanish restaurant representation in this town is distinguished by places that have closed.
The gorgeous Olivar on Capitol Hill. Terra Plata’s legendary predecessor, Brasa, and the perennially underrated Taberna del Alabardero—both terrific spots that leaned increasingly on their happy hour trade before dying at the hands of recession-era Belltown. And of course, infamously, Aragona: Seattle chef Jason Stratton’s (late of Cascina Spinasse and Artusi, now of Mamnoon) attempt at bringing the flavors of medieval Aragon to the modern diner—which lasted all of eight months before recasting itself as the Italian Vespolina. (And then dying again.) Even Spanish Table, the Spanish specialty import grocery near Pike Place Market, recently announced its impending closure.
Do Seattleites dislike Spanish food?
I will venture that, instead, we simply don’t know it very well. Critics, diners, even chef Stratton agreed that Aragona’s untimely end came down to a public that simply didn’t get its food—unusually vivid flavors that didn’t synch up with most Americans’ paellas-and-tapas fantasy of Spanish cuisine.
As luck would have it, the present moment is providing new opportunities for education. To varying degrees, both critical darling JarrBar on Western Avenue and Ciudad in Georgetown feature Spanish flavors and eating styles in their bar food menus. And Tarsan i Jane, the new destination in Frelard, ambitiously presents chef’s-choice, multi-course dinners based on the flavors of Valencia—flavor combinations Seattle diners may find to be acquired tastes. Its Sunday paella feeds however? Stunning.