Tapas are the culinary signature of Spain. The small plates ubiquitous in Spanish bars and restaurants are served hot or cold, day or night. Eat one or two of these dishes as a snack, or have a few more and make a meal of them.
Clara Gutierrez Carroll, chef and part owner of Tablas Woodstone Taverna in Mill Creek, knows her tapas. The restaurant offers a variety of Spanish tapas served on a wood board (“tablas” in Spanish, hence the restaurant’s name) that are meant to be shared at the table. Tablas groups its tapas under the themes taverna, surf, winery, garden and turf.
Though tapa literally means “cover” or “lid,” in Spain it also has become a term for this style of food. Legend has it that in 18th-century Spain the original tapas — back then a slice of cheese, meat or bread — were served over the top of a glass of sherry to keep the fruit flies out.
Today these shareables have such culinary and cultural importance that the Spanish verb tapear specifically means “to have tapas.”
“In Spain when you order a glass of wine or beer, they give you a tapa for free,” Carroll said. “It’s going to make you more thirsty, so you feel like drinking another glass.”
The bestseller at Tablas is the bacon-wrapped stuffed dates. The dish features medjool dates filled with the chef’s choice of either serrano peppers, Spanish chorizo or blue cheese.
The head chef said the saltiness of the bacon and the sweetness of the date mixes perfectly with either the spiciness of the chorizo or serrano, or the sharpness of the blue cheese.
“I always try to adapt the classic Spanish dish to the American taste,” said Carroll, who is originally from Spain. “I’m an ambassador of Spanish food and wine. I love to put out the word.”
Carroll owns Tablas with Sofeea Huffman, founder of the Edmonds-based Kafé Neo Woodstone Group. The family of restaurants includes Demetris Woodstone Taverna in Edmonds and Kafé Neo in Arlington, Edmonds, Kingston, Marysville and Mill Creek.
“We actually serve them in every one of our restaurants,” Huffman said of the bacon-wrapped stuffed dates. “It’s probably our No. 1 appetizer — we just call them something different; tapa (in Spanish) or meze (in Greek). It’s as simple as could be and yet it’s got a ton of flavor.”
Carroll, of Edmonds, was hired as chef of Kafé Neo before Huffman opened both Tablas and Demetris in 2010. With Carroll’s Spanish influence in the kitchen, Huffman saw potential to open a Spanish restaurant and a Greek-Spanish fusion restaurant.
“I always say they’re sisters, but they’re not twins,” said Huffman, who is of Greek heritage. “I don’t know if Clara would agree with me, but I’ve been to both places and I feel like … there’s definitely a Mediterranean commonality there.”
Carroll has been working in restaurants for more than 14 years. She is an expert in Spanish wines, cheeses, seafood and cured meats.
She grew up on a pig and grain farm in Valladolid, a city about 120 miles north of Madrid, where her family literally ate farm-to-table. After helping out at her aunt’s restaurants, Carroll earned an international business degree from the Complutense University of Madrid, specializing in imports and exports.
“I just grew up in the restaurant business,” she said. “I was not professionally trained. It’s in my blood.”
Before she joined the Kafé Neo Woodstone Group in 2006, Carroll served as head chef of Madrid 522, which was a tapas bar and restaurant in Seattle. Carroll also was a restaurant consultant and caterer in the Seattle area for several years.
Carroll said she’s right where she wants to be — in the kitchen, making Spanish tapas.
“It’s very rewarding,” she said. “I always feel like I’m close to my roots in Spain.”
Sara Bruestle: 425-339-3046; firstname.lastname@example.org; @sarabruestle.
Tablas’ Bacon-Wrapped Stuffed Dates
12 large medjool dates
4 ounces semi-cured Spanish chorizo, or 4 serrano peppers or 4 ounces blue cheese
12 slices smoked bacon
1 ounce balsamic vinegar reduction (see note)
1 liter olive/canola oil blend
Pit the dates by slicing off both ends of each date with a paring knife, then removing each pit by pushing them out with a skewer.
Slice the serrano peppers, chorizo or blue cheese to fit inside the pitted dates. Tip: Remove the seeds from the serrano peppers before slicing to reduce the heat.
Stuff the dates with your choice of filling. Wrap each date with a slice of bacon. Secure the bacon with a skewer or toothpick.
Pour the oil blend into a large pot. Heat the oil to 350 degrees and fry the wrapped dates for 2 to 3 minutes or until the bacon is golden crisp. (Check the temperature with a frying thermometer.) Drain on paper towels.
Drizzle the dates with balsamic reduction. Optional: Serve with extra balsamic in a sauce dish.
Note: You can make your own balsamic reduction at home. Bring 1 cup of balsamic vinegar to a boil in a small saucepan. Reduce the temperature and simmer for 10-15 minutes. When the balsamic has reduced in volume by half, take it off the heat. Let it cool.
If you go
Tablas Woodstone Taverna, 15522 Main St., Mill Creek, is open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Call 425-948-7654 or go to www.kafeneowoodstonegroup.com for more information.
Washington North Coast Magazine
This article is featured in the fall issue of Washington North Coast Magazine, a supplement of The Daily Herald. Explore Snohomish and Island counties with each quarterly magazine. Each issue is $3.99. Subscribe to receive all four editions for $14 per year. Call 425-339-3200 or go to www.washingtonnorthcoast.com for more information.