A new tapas restaurant offers highs and lows
The fun of tapas, reminded a friend, his glass of cava drained, his plates scraped clean at the end of a recent meal at Tapas Adela, is in the trying.
He was right, of course. Although it's easy to dismiss the tapas/small-plates phenomenon as overdone, there's little a compulsive grazer likes more than to sample one dish, then another, then one more. And with tapas, if some of the nibbles are less than satisfactory, well, there's usually enough of something good, something you really like, to make the evening worthwhile.
So while some eyebrows might have raised when word went round last year that the Kali's Restaurant Group was opening yet another tapas restaurant in Fells Point (it also owns the excellent Mezze), a very busy Friday night at Tapas Adela suggests that the dining public isn't ready to forsake sharing their plates of patatas, camarones, y albondigas (potatoes, shrimp, and meatballs).
Tapas at Adela is indeed Spanish (which may seem obvious, but certainly isn't a given anymore), and at least moderately authentic. A mixed charcuterie plate offers jamon Serrano and several Spanish sausages; similarly, all the choices for a cheese plate, from Catalonian Garrotxa to salty blue Valdeon, come from Spain, as do many of the wines (those that don't are from South America) and at least one beer. There are several paellas on the menu and even a whole suckling pig, though the latter must be ordered 24 hours in advance (and I wonder how many folks do, since this seems to work against the tapas concept).
And there are also verduras, mariscos, y carnes (vegetables, seafood, and meats) tapas, which we, and most of the tables near us (including a group of Spanish speakers), undertook to taste. But not the plate of mission figs with Valdeon and cocoa nibs. "Oh, they're out of season," our server told us and at least one other table in our hearing. I suppose the asparagus with quail egg was unavailable as well, since that, too, was out of season, yet still listed on the menu.
Luckily, there were plenty of artichokes to go around. In alcochofa salteado ($5.95), the pale hearts were roasted with sun-dried tomatoes and garlic and finished with Pedro Ximenez sherry, which gave the 'chokes a smoky, raisiny essence. It was delightful, as was a plate of fat, white pickled anchovies (anchovas boquerones) ($3.95), and crisp, crusted albondigas ($7.95), golf ball-sized lamb and beef meatballs napped in a roasted tomato sauce. Tocino estofado ($9.95), a tender pork stew also spiked with PX sherry, bacon, and pearl onions, reminded us, in a good way, of barbecue, the sherry this time melding with the pork fat and juices like a lighter, finer molasses.
Surprisingly, simpler things were less satisfying. An abundant dish of olive oil-poached littleneck clams ($10.95) were marred by too much grit (a little is annoying, but excusable). Patatas bravas ($4.95) cubed and fiery thanks to a dose of pimento oil, were soft on the outside and hard inside--not crisp, not brown, not good. And a tortilla Espanola ($4.95) described as "traditional" was actually four small eggy discs of omelet with minimal potatoes, instead of a plate-sized or thick wedge of potatoes bound by egg, as you'll most often find. I've no issue with a restaurant's interpretations of classics, but "traditional" didn't seem an accurate descriptor for the tortilla.
Desserts slipped back into classic territory with a small plate of crispy churros served with a sexy bittersweet chocolate dipping sauce ($5) and a creamy rice pudding spiked with citrus peel and dusted with cinnamon ($5) that would have been fabulous if it hadn't have been ice cold.
Tapas Adela is a handsome space with walls of deep-red rioja in the bar area and a snug dining room with eye-catching black and silver wallpaper that seems slightly more fussy than fun. Portions are generous, prices are reasonable (the tab for four including alcohol and before tip was just over $100), and service on a busy night still managed to keep up. It's a lively spot, too, as a tapas bar should be, and if not every dish succeeds, well, the fun is in the trying.
Tapas Adela is open daily for dinner.