The big chalk menu board at Ocho is a little like the bar/restaurant itself: filled to the brim with as much (or as many) as can possibly fit. Occupying the tiniest square of space at the corner of 24th and Market in Ballard, Ocho is the perfect place to bring someone with whom you really want to get up close and personal. The few tables along the wall are snugged right up against one another, and the stools at the bar and at the window counters are hip-to-hip. (And you’re grateful for it, let me tell you, when you’re able to snag one on a busy Saturday night.) It’s not only the logistics of the space, warmed up with lots of wood and beautiful crackled-glass hanging light fixtures, that encourage togetherness but also fact that the food is designed for sharing. My favorite!
Ocho is a fine example of the recent ubiquity of restaurants serving small plates, though they come by it more honestly than those that have simply miniaturized their regular entrée offerings. Ocho presents a wide variety of Spanish tapas, a style of food actually designed to be in small plate form. The menu changes weekly but definitely retains some favorites like the Patatas Bravas, nicely spicy fried potatoes served with an artichoke allioli that’s just the right cool complement; the Chorizo con Huevo with braised chorizo, smoked pimento tomato sauce, baked egg and citrus bread crumbs; and the Tortilla Espanola with egg, potato, onion and again the artichoke allioli. (Allioli for those like me who aren’t familiar, is the Catalonian version of aioli. And why wouldn’t it have its very own Facebook page?)
On a recent Thursday night two of the standouts were the Brocoli with garlic, pine nuts and dark, leafy escarole; and the Pescado Blanco, a breaded cod with smashed potatoes, anchovy butter, leeks and bacon. Both buttery, and both excellent. But this is only a small slice of what awaits you at Ocho, as this most recent menu listed 23-ish items. And at and average of $5 a plate you really feel like you have the chance to try a bunch. Two more on my list should I make it to Ocho while they’re still on the menu: the Albondigas (lamb meatballs, brandy carrot sauce and golden onions) and the Almejas (clams, lentils, roasted cauliflower and white wine saffron).
I always say: Talk to the bartender and you get the best scoop and Michael, the outstanding bartender at Ocho, was no exception. In addition to mixing a mean cocktail -- given my recent affection for St. Germain it’s no surprise that my favorite is the San Miguel with gin, St. Germain, lemon and rhubarb bitters -- he’s a font of knowledge. One was a heads-up about the “opium den” at Thaiku, the Thai restaurant around the corner on Ballard Ave and the newest addition to my list of interesting private spaces around town. (For those of you who like to know this sort of thing, I also just found out, courtesy of foodie friends, that Ballard neighbors Thaiku, La Carta de Oaxaca and Copper Gate have common ownership. And Michael filled in some of that story for me as well. Interesting stuff.) He mentioned that Fremont’s George & Dragon is bringing a second location to Ballard, opening in the former antique store space, across 24th.
One final note on Ocho: Be sure to check out their weekend brunch, a relatively new offering for them. It’s the perfect stop before or after your tour through the Ballard Sunday market, something I’ve done a couple of times since they expanded their hours about a year ago. Michael tells me that one of the three current brunch specials is a duck empanada. Granted, it’s not your typical eggs and bacon brunch fare, but egg and pig isn’t so very far off from egg and duck, right?