Small plates rule these days. And no wonder: They're affordable, offer manageable portions and creative flavors, and are fun to share at the table. Kali's Restaurant Group in Fells Point recognized the trend a few years ago when it opened Mezze, focusing on Greek cuisine. Now, it's again invested its faith in little dishes with Tapas Adela, which puts a modern spin on the foods of Spain.
When you step into the restaurant, you're struck by the pulse of the place. It's a lively atmosphere, but maybe that's because you're in the handsome bar area, gleaming with wood. But step to the left and you find yourself in a quieter front dining room that delivers a view of South Broadway's cobblestone streets and historic demeanor while blending a casual yet sophisticated décor, courtesy of designer Rita St. Clair.
The wood tables are bare, yet a vase holds two perfect white roses. The patterned wallpaper above a chair rail and an oversized gilt mirror lend formality. And the wrought-iron chandeliers with tiny lights give a nod to the Mediterranean. In sum, there's a peacefulness in the surroundings, all the better to concentrate on the menu.
On both of our visits, the servers were extremely knowledgeable about the choices and knew minute details about the ingredients. They're not shy about offering their opinions about what you should order. One night, our waitress was pushing the chicken with lentils; the next time, the stewed pork. We might try those at some point, but we had our eye on other dishes.
We did appreciate the Spanish translations, as not everyone would know that acapernas fritas were fried caperberries (although according to my Spanish dictionary, it's spelled "alcaparróns"). You'll find these mouthwatering nibbles under the snacks section of the menu, along with mixed olives (olivas) with pickled pearl onions and more caperberries. (We're seeing these small green fruits from the caper bush on more menus, and we like it!)
We also enjoyed the green-olive tapenade, but found the accompanying nuggets (they reminded us of thumb-nail-size oval breadsticks) difficult to use as scoopers for the dip. Our waitress pointed out that most tapenades are made from black olives, so this one was different. Besides the green color, it just tasted like a really good tapenade to us.
By this time, we also were devouring the house bread—soft baguette slices heavy with melted manchego cheese—with a glass of Cava sangria, similar to a champagne cocktail but with a couple of chunks of apple floating in the bubbly concoction. If you've got a sweet tooth, this drink is for you. Otherwise, stick with the red or white sangria.
On our first go-round at Tapas Adela, we soon found ourselves surrounded by assorted dishes, which arrive in no particular order. Portions are generous.
This is one time you'll want to follow mom's advice and eat your veggies. The grilled asparagus with a delicate quail egg was piquant with roasted shallots and sherry vinegar. The sautéed spinach was sublime with pine nuts, golden raisins, and dried apricots.
Fat sea scallops (which weren't on the menu, but we were told they would be soon) were brilliantly white with a pistachio crust and dressed with mâche (a handful of gourmet greens). The spicy lamb-and-beef meatballs were firm and intriguing with roasted tomato-fennel sauce, manchego, and toasted almonds.
Executive chef Rashad Edwards is certainly going all out with the captivating flavors. When we returned to the restaurant for a second sampling, we ordered one of the paellas, billed as "traditional Valencia style."
The paella de Adela, served in a small sauté pan, was a meat-and-seafood combo that was loaded with clams, mussels, shrimp, artichokes, peas, tomatoes, and blood sausage. We thought that the blood sausage was too strong a presence in the succulent rice dish. Perhaps chorizo would have been a better match.
We also tried the calamari meatballs, a traditional Spanish pairing of seafood and pork. The blend works well, especially with the squid-ink rice, rich with saffron butter. A garlicky (but not overpowering) shrimp dish was also successful. A pleasantly grassy mojo verde (fresh pureed greens with olive oil) was a welcome counterpart.
We're always happy to see churros, elongated sugar doughnuts, on a dessert list. While they may be considered street food in other countries, they've been elevated to a more elegant status here, especially with a chocolate sauce that is unexpectedly complex. The elusive ingredients? Cumin and saffron, our waitress said. Delicious.
The caramelized goat cheese rounds, firm yet warmed to a soft buttery texture, teased the taste buds with summery-tasting diced peaches and delicate edible flowers.
Sated, we wondered, "Does Baltimore really need another tapas place?" Adela proves that we do.