At Tapas Adela, small plates make a big impact

Kali's Group delivers few surprises but a nice place to be at the slick Tapas Adela

January 03, 2010|By Elizabeth Large | elizabeth.large@baltsun.com | Sun restaurant critic

Does Baltimore, and more specifically Fells Point, have room for yet another tapas restaurant? The Kali's Restaurant Group, which includes Kali's Court, Mezze and Meli, is betting yes.

Its new place is Tapas Adela, now open next to the Admiral Fell Inn where the Petticoat Tearoom and Southern Accents gift shop were.

The interior design firm Rita St. Clair Associates has come up with a clever concept, dividing the space into two distinct areas. The first is the high-energy room (alert: code word for noisy) with a bar and a marble communal table. Two round tables for parties larger than four flank the door. Clearly, this room is where the noisemakers are going to sit. It's good-looking, with dark wood, tile and deep red on the walls.

The small dining room next to it is more genteel, sporting two- and four-top tables, a striking black-and-white patterned wallpaper, a large gilt-framed mirror and dark red carpet. This is where you sit if you want to talk quietly to your companion.

Both rooms have the feeling you want in a Fells Point bar - that this place has been here forever.

Adela is a slick operation, and that's not a bad thing. The wait staff knows the right tone to take (casual, friendly and chatty, but not too chatty). They also know how to get the food on the table in a timely way and to keep the water glasses filled. Of course, we went the week before New Year's Eve, so the place was emptier than it is normally; but I bet even when every seat is filled, the service is pretty good.

Adela's menu is short enough to fit on one page, with the wine list on the back of it. It's divided into small plates, a couple of paellas and - most intriguingly - a whole suckling pig, market priced. Not that we would have ordered it, but you have to call 24 hours in advance, our waiter told us. In the short time the place has been open, he had already served a couple of them.

I liked just about everything we had, but our meal ended up being more expensive than I expected. Our waiter warned us that portions are smaller than at Mezze, so we ordered accordingly. On the other hand, Adela doesn't nickel and dime you to death. A copper bowl of hot bread with melted cheese and tomato comes to the table gratis. (Of course, it's impossible not to order a second, which costs $4.)

The plato de comenzar is a bit skimpy for $15. It's really only enough for two, with two kinds of thinly sliced chorizo, a bit of creamy Cana de Cabra goat cheese and a small slice of a smooth, mild Tetilla. This comes with crostini and a little dish of olives, pickled onions and caper berries. You can also order the charcuterie or the cheeses individually.

The waiter recommended that everyone order one item from the vegetable section, one from the seafood and one from the meat. That would be enough food, but the least you spend doing that is $20, and you probably aren't going to stop there. No problem, as long as you don't equate tapas with cheap eats.

My favorite of all the dishes we tried was one you might not think to order, the tortilla espanola. It was actually four elegant little omelets with potato and bell peppers, with a bit of aioli drizzled on top. Delicious.

For your vegetable dish you might get a fine little salad of baby greens, hazelnuts and slices of dried apricot. Another fruity choice, figs halved and stuck in the oven to melt the Valdeon cheese on top, was a nonstarter.

The order of spinach sauteed with raisins and pine nuts was too garlicky for me, but others at the table liked it. If you want a kick, I recommend instead the fiery patates braves, potatoes sauteed in pimento olive oil and drizzled with aioli.

The kitchen pairs beautiful fat shrimp with artichoke hearts and grills them. (I could have used more artichoke. This seemed to be one heart cut into four pieces.)

It grills lamb chops and tops them with a piquillo pepper marmalade - cold and faintly sweet, an interesting contrast with the slightly charred but juicy lamb. But if you're sharing, the pork stew in a rich sherry-sparked gravy works better.

Adela has three desserts: churros that are overshadowed by their fabulous Venezuelan chocolate sauce, a traditional rice pudding with raisins (best if you've overindulged before this) and caramelized goat cheese with cut-up fruits.

The restaurant is striving for authenticity, so the wine list is limited to Spanish and Latin American bottles. There aren't many of them. But our waiter told us that if we wanted something else, he could get a bottle for us from Meli. Its kitchen backs up onto its sister restaurant's, which is handy.

There are no surprises at the new Tapas Adela, no shock of unexpected delight - but no horrors either. Adela is simply a nice place to be. The Kali's Restaurant Group has done relatively well through the recession because it delivers, and delivers professionally. You know what to expect, and you get it. That's been true of the other restaurants in the group, and it's true of Tapas Adela.

Tapas Adela
Where: 814 S. Broadway, Fells Point

Contact: 410-534-6262)

Hours: Open daily for lunch and dinner

Small plates: $3.95-$10.95

Paella: $14-$20

Food: ***

Service: ***

Atmosphere: ***

[Outstanding: **** Good: *** Fair or uneven: ** Poor: *]

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