Open only a week, and they have it dialed in. I walk in and the mood, atmosphere, knowledge of the menu, friendliness of the staff, quality of the food, everything fell into place just right. Plus, much of the ingredients are sourced locally from our farmers market or local businesses.
It helps that southen Spanish and Moroccan are two of my favorite cuisines to begin with. I didn’t ever go to fancy restaurants in my travels there, but I did experience the traditional dishes, the spices, and the Moorish architecture. And I felt this new restaurant embodied the spirit of the region albeit on the higher end.
The people working there already knew their stuff, down to cheese preferences and details of ingredients. Those who were clearly in training were under careful care of the experienced staff. I sat at the bar initially for a cocktail, but enjoyed the beverages and company of the bartenders that I stayed there for the rest of the night. The head bartender was Dudley, a modest but very sharp fellow who took very good care of me. And bonus: he announced that someone else in the restaurant had bought my cocktail. I don’t think that’s ever happened to me before. Was it my perfume?
My dining companion and I didn’t hold back and ordered way more food then we needed, only because we wanted to try so much on the menu.
The cocktail menu is evolving, at the time I was there only four specialty cocktails were available and I tried them all. My favorite was the Palermo, similar to a Manhattan but with a piece of vanilla pod as a twist. Best of all, it’s served with real maraschino cherries. It’ll cost you $15, though, so be prepared. The other cocktails cost less. Again, extra props go to Dudley and Scott at the bar, for the conversation and information. I know I took up a disproportionate amount of their attention, and I’m grateful for their company.
Here are the four drinks.
Toarmina: Avion silver tequila, St. Germain, fresh grapefruit juice.
Foodwise, gah! Are you ready?
* 5 cheese platter, served with a little Pink Lady apple jam. There’s a 3 cheese option as well. 3/$15 or 5/$25. The cheeses were Garrotxa, Romao, Mahon Reserva, Pecorino Stagionato, and Queso de Valdeon. Served with Pink Lady apple jam and toast. The waiter first said and we all agreed: the favorite was the blue queso de valdeon. I also liked the cheese with the rind of rosemary, as the herb had infused into the cheese. I played a game – how much of the rind was I willing to eat into to get more of the musty rosemary flavor. Pretty far, it turns out.
* cured meat platter, including buffalo carpaccio. 3/$15. Loved the serranno ham with pickled onions and garlic aioli.
* Ricottta gnocchi. My dining companion’s favorite. Three dense pillows over creamed spinach and wine reduction, and topped with crisp baked cheese. Keep in mind this is quality over quantity. Three may seems like a small number, but they are a good portion for tapas.
* Saffon risotto. A cross between risotto and paella, with firm Spanish chorizo and mussels and plenty of saffron threads. It doesn’t look like a big portion, but it is very filling. This could have been a whole lunch for me.
* Albondigas. Four California lamb meatballs in a rich tomato sauce. Two were a little salty, two were just right. Very good tapa.
* Moroccan chicken breast as a main dish, with chickpeas, almonds, swiss chard, grapes, natural jus. Different to what I consider Moroccan chicken, but the spice combinations were good, loved the crisp grapes.
* Wild boar ribs, creamy polenta, roasted baby beets, smoked bacon, fig reduction. Yummy! A robust and rich dish, and a lot of food. Meat was super tender, deeply flavored, like braised meat. This was a big dish, worthy of its $25 price tag. I was so full on all the other food, I was only able to eat one rib before declaring my meal done and getting the plate whisked away to be boxed up.
There was a lot of food left over. Honestly, if you have a drink and a couple appetizers or tapas, there isn’t room for a main dish. And that’s enough because you still get a full dose of the lovely atmosphere, which took me back to Andalucia, or Chouen or Marrakesh. I went on a Tuesday, when the farmers market was just feet away from the protected patio, like our own little souk bustling outside.
Spotted dining there: old school Santa Barbarans, other local reputable chefs and restaurant owners, travelers. Some believe the Haj is more about the enlightenment obtained from the journey there, rather than reaching Mecca itself. Therefore, to take in a traveler and be a part of someone’s Haj is an honor, for you will be a part of their experience. I’d like to think that the people behind Cadiz believe in that, too.
I love a restaurant when I can “feel the soul of the chef” in my food. It doesn’t have to be a fancy place, it doesn’t have to be a hole in the wall, it comes down to the passion of the chef and the restaurant. It was good here!
But Cadiz made one mistake. They left the jar of Luxardo cherries next to me unattended. This is more their problem than mine, mind you.
So, the bill? About $200 and we got a helluva lot of stuff, more than is realistic for two people. We probably could have cut $100 off if we’d stuck to what we knew we could eat and drink. So much went home in doggy bags.