Is Philadelphia the new hotbed for Spanish cuisine?
Just arriving home from an exciting and splendid trip to Barcelona, Spain this past Fall, my husband and I were compelled to search for an “authentic” tapas restaurant in Philadelphia. With the hope of re-capturing a sliver of our fantastic Spanish experience, we were envisioning ourselves in a cozy but lively café, surrounded by dark wood tables and floors, and the distinctive sounds of the flamenco guitar making the scene complete.
Most importantly, we were hoping for a place with counters piled high with plates of tiny, but numerous homemade delights, adorned with multi-colored tooth picks, arranged for customers to easily choose their own selections.
The “traditional” tapas we were craving can be described as bite-sized portions of various combinations of mouth watering hot and cold pieces of delicious meats, seafood, eggs, a variety of plump olives, nuts and vegetarian selections. Tapas varies a bit, and recipes change widely throughout the different regions of Spain. However, tapas is usually comprised of pieces of smoked ham, salmon, sausages, tuna, tomato, potato salads, numerous other vegetables and (a multitude of) fresh chunks of cheeses and countless additional tasty items.
What we found most interesting about this tapas tradition, is that the tapas restaurants in Spain incorporate the “honor” system, where the customers tell the bartender or server how many pieces they had, or the server simply counts the toothpicks left over from the tapas and then calculates the bill. This makes the experience relaxing and fun.
Although we did not find a secret tapas hideaway in Philadelphia to replicate the atmosphere of the true tapas restaurants that were so prominent around Spain, we discovered one restaurant in Philly that offers such a special dining experience, that it brought us back to Barcelona, at least in spirit.
So, this past October, my husband and I were thrilled to discover that Amada (the name means “loved one”) opened in Philadelphia’s Old City area, at 217 Chestnut street. We made it a point to visit this promising establishment. Amada Owner and founder, Chef Jose Garces, was formerly the executive chef at Alma de Cuba and El Vez. Previously, he spent time in Spain, and worked in New York’s top restaurants, including the well known Rainbow Room and 5757. His background is in Peruvian, Cuban and Mexican cuisines.
Amada is large, but unique and cozy space, including a Spanish tapas bar. Offering many authentic Spanish dishes, Amada’s menu features paella, homemade red and white sangria, and flamenco dancing two nights a week. The restaurant’s more interesting elements is a “charcuterie” bar, where customers can create a casual meal from a selection of cut-to-order meats and cheeses served with complementary garnishes. Some items include salchichon, a mild, flavorful sausage made from a combination of pork, garlic and black pepper; cured pork loin, seasoned with paprika and garlic, torta de casar, a rich creamy sheep’s milk cheese from the Extremadura region of west central Spain, and fresh queso de cabra, a cheese made from whole pasteurized goat’s milk.
Amada’s signature tapas dishes include tomato bread with marinated tuna, Spanish octopus, garlic shrimp, tortilla Espanola, oysters with salt and lemon, ham croquettes, squid in ink sauce, crab-stuffed peppers and tuna and potato salad. There are plenty of vegetarian selections, too, such as truffled white asparagus; spinach, manchego and artichoke, and chickpeas with spinach.
Are you in the mood for sharing? The food at Amada is meant for just that — sharing, as the food is presented in “small plate” or “tapas” style, where the items ordered arrive at the table as they are prepared, and your friends get the chance to sample everything.
Some of the other impressive menu items at Amada include navajas, razor clams; fresh sardines, lobster, lamb chops, setas, seasonal wild mushrooms and vieras, scallops. Garces also offers special paella dishes, such as paella valenciana, chicken and chorizo with artichoke-tomato salad, saffron aioli and garlic toasts and lobster paella, lobster, shrimp, scallops and mussels, with calamari linguini and fava bean salad.
Amada’s wine list is impressive, too. In addition to the red and white sangria, the wine list features primarily Spanish reds and whites (among others from South America, Portugal, California, Italy and France), and all are available by the glass.
And, as a special treat, don’t miss the cocktails. They are all extra-special and creatively named after Pedro Almodovar’s films, such as Tie me up, tie me down, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and Talk to Her. Enjoy!
Amada is open seven days a week, and offers lunch Monday through Friday.
Amada217 Chestnut StreetPhiladelphia, PA 19106215 625 2450Reservations recommended.
(Marla Cimini writes for our publications)