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Jan 22, 2008 09:20 PM

Ocho Ballard

Speaking of tapas, there is a new tapas bar in Ballard named Ocho. It opened today. I just got back. Wow!

The restaurant is the most recent attempt at making something work in the formerly somewhat sad little building on the southeast corner of Market Street and 24th Ave. Seeing that space in its former incarnation as a hotdog stand, I was pretty pessimistic that anyone would be willing to put the money and elbow grease in needed to make it charming. I was wrong ... REALLY wrong.

The exterior has gotten a once over with a muted contemporary paint scheme. Such much better than the picnic table red they used before. With the stone accents on the building it has a more sophisticated curb appeal.

The interior transformation has been doubly dramatic. With a rich color palate, beautiful wood tables and warm lighting the space is very inviting. The daily dishes are listed on a chalkboard. There is a small but smart Spanish wine list, a short list of Spanish-inspired cocktails, and Estrella Damm by the bottle. The only thing they are missing is cured meat hanging from the walls.

Ocho is definitely not a theme restaurant though. It is a real neighborhood joint with authentic Spanish tapas that feels like it belongs in Ballard. The owners make it their own: Rod Stewart on the stereo and a window looking out on the Pacific Fisherman's drydock. There was even a crowd of fishermen at the bar seemingly talking some shop over a few drinks. Hey, it's Ballard.

The menu consists of maybe 10-15 items (which per the owners will rotate). We had chorizo de la mancha (a dish of fried finely diced potatoes, chorizo, and an egg); chorizo asturias (chorizo in a stew of apples and cider, as well as an unidentified blue cheese I think), patatas bravas (fried potatoes with aoli and spicy tomato brava sauce), pan amb tomaquet (toasted baguette slices rubbed with tomato and topped with melted manchego), tortilla (a Spanish omelet with potatoes) and another toast with jamon. No dish on the menu was more than about 5-6 dollars. The dishes we had were all sized as raciones not pinxos. They are not just a bite or two.

The service was very welcoming and pretty quick given how crowded they were. All said the restaurant highly exceeded my expectations and is a place I look forward to visiting again soon. Per the owners Ocho will be open daily and will have late night hours. I understand the hours will be 4pm to 2am. Yes, 2am.

I will attach some photos when I get them.

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  1. The interior is as great as kls says. A very nice job of making a welcoming and convivial space. The service is friendly (if a bit confused - it's early yet).

    A beautiful space. Beautiful. And definitely a candidate for a well-enjoyed neighborhood hangout. Never having been to Spain, I can't speak to the authenticity of the "tapas" and though I appreciate that peppers with manchego are likely Spanish enough, the heavy dusting of dried(!) parsley made it seem more "Schilling-from-Safeway-inspired".
    I can imagine trying an infusion with fresh oregano, but the cocktail I had (buzzingly named 'herb-infused bzz bzz bzz") may have been "Spanish-inspired" but it was surely not known to any drinker in Spain, with it's fistful of dusty-dried(!) oregano.

    Chorizo de la mancha was quite good.
    Patatas bravas were simple and good, too, and the aioli was nice, though the 2 red salsas lacked interest.
    Toast with ham, was, well, toast with ham, if tiny.

    My first thought was to just write ocho=oucho, but there is time yet for them to put the wonderful energy that so revitalized that space to the task of finding somebody who can advise them to reform the menu. It has possibilities, and the dried-herb thing is a tell that they will benefit very easily from good a good menu advisor.

    4 Replies
    1. re: mrnelso

      I stumbled upon this little gem by accident tonight, and ay, de puta madre!

      It is so refreshing to get some real Spanish tapas for once, not those overpriced fusion-y, urban small plate appetizers, but real, neighborhood, have-a-small-snack-to-go-with-the-wine-and-not-break-the-bank tapas. But for the lack of a glass bar cover and a metal footrest, I could've sworn I was back in Madrid, passing time between classes.

      I almost fell over when I saw tortilla espanola on the menu, and for $3. I had to rub my eyes to make sure I read correctly- was that pa amb tomaquet? Thankfully, the space still retains some Seattle vibe. Seeing cured meat hanging would've definitely put me over the edge.

      Of course, there are some rough edges, but none that aren't common in such a new venture. Give 'em a few more weeks and they'll get the kinks out, I'm sure. Right now, though, the blackboard menu is perfectly manageable and the tapas themselves good, the space is beautiful, the bar service is excellent, and the drinks are decent (some excellent, some forced.)

      As for the dried parsley: sorry, but it's it's pretty common in Spain, mrnelso. Gambas al ajillo...with (dried) parsley. Stewed mushrooms...with (dried) parsley. Chickpeas...with (dried) parsley. Especially in Andalucia, it's a pretty standard garnish and often unavoidable. I always enjoyed the fresh parsley encounters, although dried appeared to be more de rigeur. I can't speak to the dried oregano cocktail, though...that's a new one for me.

      It'll take some adjustment for those who have been conditioned to believe that tapas are served with a cloth napkin and silverware, but they'll come around. I fear that the location and space limitations coupled with different expectations from the Seattle citizenry might prove to be limiting, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed that Ocho will stick it out. I, for one, will be there to cheer them on whilst stuffing my face with tortilla!

      1. re: lisaswanderlust

        Thank you, Lisas, for the education. That's what I come here for and I do apreciate it. I guess I've been around too much good Italian food, where fresh herbs are everywhere and was startled by the dried parsley and oregano. I do intend to give them some time and visit them again. Maybe I'll get the hang of it. I think one of their strengths is the lack of "cloth napkin and silverware" and hope along with you that they can succeed here.

        1. re: mrnelso

          Dried herbs? No cloth napkins?

          With not an ounce of sarcams, (I use cloth napkis and fresh herbs at home, and it's just me) I say, get this stuff dialed in so I can come by and eat tapas!!

          1. re: allisonw

            Thank you, Allison (we must be neighbors), as I maintain a nearly desperate enthusiasm for this enterprise. It is such a good idea, and they have achieved such a great space, that I'd hate to see it fail in the doldrums when really good advice is so available among the great cooks of Seattle...