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Ocho – 8/14/11

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Location: 2325 NW Market St.

Hours:

Mon-Fri: 4pm-2am

Sat-Sun: 12pm-2am

Happy Hour:

Mon-Fri: 4-6

Sat-Sun: 12-6

J suggested Ocho for our monthly “nice” meal because it had been over a year since we’d eaten there. Since neither of us knew what Ocho’s hours were on the weekend, I checked online and was pleasantly surprised to find they opened at noon and offered Happy Hour from noon to six on the weekends. We head out around 1:30 on a rather nice Sunday, not sure whether it would be crowded.

Ocho is located in a tiny space on the corner of 24th and Market Street. Once upon a time, Matt’s Hot Dogs occupied the space until a cop car made it into a drive-thru during a car chase a few years back. Now it’s a romantic little spot offering Spanish style tapas and specialty cocktails. There is limited seating both inside and out so Ocho tends to fill up very quickly. If it hadn’t been a nice enough day for outdoor seating, J and I would have been out of luck. As it was, there was a small table free indoors, along the wall across from the bar.

The Service:

Considering our server was acting as both bartender and server and was the only server working in the very busy restaurant, our service was pretty good. We didn’t feel rushed and she was quite friendly and knowledgeable about the menu.

The Drinks:

J chose a Death in the Afternoon, a concoction of La Hora Verde, Ocho’s housemade absinthe, and Cava Rose. He found it interesting with a strong, traditional absinthe flavor only slightly cut by the crispness of the sparkling wine.

Ocho is known for their $10 Margarita made with El Tesoro Anejo tequila so I chose that for my beverage. I am a fan of margaritas, especially when they tend toward limey sour rather than sweet. This margarita, however, was way too bitter, even for me, to the point where I could barely taste the tequila. I’m not sure if the limes used were bad or if, in the rush, the server forgot an ingredient but this was not a very good margarita. Certainly not a $10 … well, $8 happy hour price … margarita.

The Food:

Ocho specializes in tapas, small, flavor packed plates. We ordered seven items from both the Happy Hour and regular menus.

Our first choice was the Tostada de queso y pimentos, toast spread with herbed goat cheese and topped with roasted peppers. This morsel perfectly combined the sweetness of the peppers, the tang of the goat cheese and an overall saltiness to a wonderful effect.

At the same time, we were brought two toothpicks of Chorizo Merguez, spicy lamb sausage with potatoes and saffron aioli. Each component complimented the other. The spiciness of the chorizo, which sat just at the back of the throat without being too strong, was tempered by the starchiness of the potatoes and when dipped in the saffron aioli, melded into a creamy, spicy bite. Nothing overwhelmed. Lovely.

Our next set of tapas started with Huevo del Diablo, two amazing deviled eggs filled with a mild aioli, sprinkled with tomato dust and topped with pickled onion, salmon roe, fried capers and dill. Delicious. Awesome. Nearly indescribable. A flavor bomb that floored both of us. The firmness of the egg melted in the mouth in a creamy mix of flavors. A hint of tomato. A touch of dill. Then the punch of the salmon roe. Each salmon egg seems to hold the flavor of a whole salmon steak. J described them as “the Cadbury Egg of deviled eggs. You want to eat a dozen but it’s so rich that you can’t.”

The closest thing to an entrée we ordered was the Carne Lengua, beef tongue and sautéed onions with green beans, potatoes and walnuts in a pimenton sauce. We chose this since neither J nor I have ever had beef tongue. It turned out to be a very delicious surprise. The tongue, with its strong beef flavor, was sliced super thin in order to make it meltingly tender. J called it a high-end Steak-Um and waxed poetic about having a Philly cheesesteak sandwich made from tongue and gruyere.

The warmth of the tongue and onions contrasted nicely with the cold green bean and potato salad with the walnuts adding an interesting textural counterpoint.

Along with the Carne Lengua came Pa amb tomaquet, a piece of toast covered in house made tomato jam and melted manchengo cheese. Like eating a really good cheese pizza in one bite. Salty. Cheesy. Tomatoey.

For our dessert, we had our favorite tapas at Ocho, La Carolina, dates stuffed with bleu cheese, wrapped in bacon and drizzled with a balsamic reduction. Heaven on a toothpick. A perfect bite of sweet, salty and tangy. The cooking process makes the date taste like caramel candy and the tangy balsamic reduction adds just the right note of sweet and sour. I have tried to duplicate these bites at home yet have never gotten them quite right. Delicious almost beyond words.

Our final tapas was a Queso plate, three cheeses with toast and a date sauce. First was the Drunken Goat, a creamy goat cheese soaked in Doble Pasta wine. Then the Leonora, a soft goat cheese with a tangy flavor that went perfectly with the sweet date sauce. Last was the dry, strong Manchengo, a sheep’s milk cheese with a buttery, salty flavor. A nice ending to a lovely meal.

The Price:

Death in the Afternoon: 8.00 (6.00 Happy Hour price)

$10 Margarita: 10.00 (8.00 Happy Hour price)

Tostada de queso y pimentos: 2.00 (Happy Hour price)

Chorizo Merquez: 2.00 ea. (Happy Hour price)

Huevo del Diablo: 2.50 ea.

Pa am tomaquet: 2.00 (Happy Hour price)

Carne Lengua: 8.00

La Carolina: 5.00

Queso: 3.50 per oz

The Verdict:

I’ll be honest, Ocho is one of our favorite restaurants in Ballard. It’s been over a year since we last visited and the quality has not diminished at all. Yes, it can be hard to find a seat, especially when the weather is not so nice, making outdoor seating not feasible. Yes, the service can be a bit slow. Yes, all those small plates can add up. But it’s worth it. Totally worth it.

The food packs layer upon layer of flavor, no matter how small the serving. The creativity of the offerings and the small sizes make it easy to try new things like we did with the beef tongue. Other than my margarita, everything we had was amazing.

We will return to Ocho, no doubt about that … especially now that we know about the weekend Happy Hour. For something a bit different in Ballard, try Ocho. You won’t be disappointed.

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