Amada Restaurant

217-219 Chestnut Street
Old City
(215) 625-2450

I’ve arrived at Spanish restaurants in Washington D.C.,  New York and San Francisco, and would have likened them to the Spanish Armada.  The entrées come at you heavily, favoring foods whose quality seems like ballast.  The meals sink to the bottom of your stomach in a storm of smoking failure.  But the Armada occurred 420 years ago, when King Philip of Spain tried to conquer Queen Elizabeth of England, thinking he had the advantage II to I. 

Notwithstanding, the lighter, quicker and more versatile English ships (especially in the stormy weather) outmaneuvered Spain’s fatty flotilla in a victorious “Fire Sail.”  The inscription at St. Paul’s cathedral in Britain remains, “God blew and they were scattered.”

The Spanish “Amada” is quite another story.  Chef José Garces has determined that lighter, quicker and more versatile tapas’ tastes are the future.  From ballast to bliss.  Latin-American Garces has become an Old City icon, with this restaurant distinguished by authentic Andalusian-inspired repasts.

One enters through a small foyer’s velvet curtain, into a bustling, lantern-illuminated flamenco fanfare of sights and aromas.  Looking forward, you observe that service and wait persons are omnipresent but not flamboyant, carrying platters, changing utensils, clearing trays and quietly explaining seating arrangements and menu items or choices.  To one’s immediate left is a humungous bronze pig, whose happily squiggling tail belies the fact that his sort may be roasted and suckling in short order.  To one’s right at the window are two six-seater mahogany tables, whose legs and accompanying chairs are nestled upon rocks.  Pounce there if you can, and reserve them if possible.  Because almost all other seating areas require that at least a few in each party, must place her or his tushy onto an overly cushy banquette.  The table becomes neck-high.  In order to be seen or heard, you have to raise your hands with castanets blazing.  Propping a pillow seems and feels improper.  There are some lovely back rooms, past the open kitchen, with more chairs available, or the bar area for perusal; but be prepared to be deeply seated.

“La Mesa De José” is a must at $45 per person for the table.  Allow this fine chef to select a special tapas menu at his discretion.  Disappointment is impossible.  You’ll receive a pleiad of plates, well-filled, from the Charcuteria Y Quesos (Cured Meats and Cheeses), Tradicional (Traditional Tapas), Cocas (Spanish Flatbreads), Verduras (Vegetarian), A La Plancha (From the Grill) and Carnes (Meats) sections of Amada’s Menu.

First arrive platters filled with Salchicón, La Peral and Pan Con Tomate.  This, loosely translated, brings an overlayment of more than a dozen and a half smoked circular meats sided with sour bayberries, capers and mustards.  Accompanying all, upon separate plates, are tomato and garlic breads the size of pizzas, toasted to a crunchy perfection, and a porcelain-potted currant-pistachio mixture gilded with green apples and soft cheeses.  Nearby appears a concoction which resembles the finest tuna salad you’ve ever consumed.  Your tongue will be doing a flamenco dance with teeth gnashing.

Lamb Meatballs follow with shaved Manchego cheese.  Half-inch diameters of coarsely ground lamb are showered by and lowered onto a gold cream sauce that takes your breath away.  With the current price of gold, when you’re able to exhale, you groan with greed.

Grilled scallops on skewers are next, fortified by surrounding parsley-lemon oil, adding a truly sultry sensation to your lips.  When done, your mouth has scoured every bit from every skewer to swarthy smoothness. 

Then appear chicken breasts with truffles, on top of which is dozing a fried egg with yolk unabashedly exposed.  Your fingers and fork must lazily but invariably decide which comes first, the chicken or the egg.  The next course, served simultaneously, is shrimp, redolent of garlic, which is ported upon flatbreads.  Nearby, in concert, is served a sheep cheese mousse with apple cider sorbet and dusted peanuts.  And to raise the temperature at palate to a heated delight, warmed fava beans sing a salad duo with lava-hot lima beans.  Suddenly, an enchanting Empanada is added, engulfed by spinach and artichokes, to culminate the variety of culinary cacophony. 

Plates and platters are cleared promptly and courteously, but only after each set of servings has been devoured.  Fresh new silverware is brought at every turn.  Tiny harpoon-like spears are made individually available when seafood pieces or meat slices are to be shared.  Service is as harmonious and lively as an aria from Carmen.

Philip and Elizabeth met in naval battle in May, 1588.  José has taken centuries-old Spanish cuisine and reinvented peace by piece.


Copyright 2008 Richard Max Bockol, Esq. Back