Pomodoro
2366 Eastlake Ave E, 324-3160
Open daily 5:30 pm-12 mid, Fri & Sat till 2 am.

WE'VE BEEN HEARING ABOUT Pomodoro for quite some time. While "pomodoro" is Italian for tomato, the soul of this intimate Eastlake eatery is its dazzling selection of tapas. Originating in Spain's Andalucia in the 19th century, tapas (from the word "tapar," which means "to cover") were originally ham or chorizo sausage served on a toothpick over the mouth of a sherry glass. The snack was designed to keep flies out of the wine... who'd have thought that flies wouldn't eat ham?

Pomodoro is situated right on Eastlake, and we were seated at the street-side window. Noisy cars whizzed by about four feet from our noses, so we asked to move to a different spot. We preferred a smallish four-top, but were told we could only sit at a two-seater, which was about as big as a postage stamp. Then, when we ordered four tapas selections, our server complained that she wouldn't be able to fit them all on our small table, leaving us feeling slightly unwelcome. My Administrative Assistant (AA) had come in bouncy, hungry, and keen on finding out what the Pomodoro buzz was all about; now, having weathered what we would later refer to as "our little seating problem," she appeared slightly slumped, absent of the frisky demeanor present mere seconds ago.

However, the situation would improve dramatically with the arrival of the fragrant and beautifully presented food. We started with the Setas Combo ($7.95), a sautéed, grilled tapas combination of shiitake and portabello mushrooms laden with olive oil and garlic. This dish boldly heralded Pomodoro's well-crafted three-point game plan: first, select fresh local vegetables, seafoods, and meats. Second, grill, sauté, or broil them with an aggressive (yet not spicy) amalgam of olive oil, garlic, and paprika. Third, serve it hot. Calamares alla Placha ($6.95) featured delicate whole squid, grilled with a hint of golden crunchiness and puffed up like little Japanese ornaments. The strong flavor, in tandem with the airy texture, had us vigorously nodding our approval. Pinchito Espanola ($5.95) was so logical and basic that we couldn't help but chuckle at its presentation. Lying on a bed of thick-sliced rustic bread were two skewers of marinated pork cubes and mushroom chunks, practically glowing with their orange paprika and olive oil marinade. The tender pork, seared mushrooms, and marinade softened the bread, creating a dreamy and sensual texture. Paprika again took center stage with Octopus alla Paprika ($6.95), showcasing substantial slices of octopus drenched in (guess what?) olive oil. Like the other dishes, it was salty without driving our systolic blood pressures over 180. Chewy, with a mild paprika sting, this octopus clearly died for a good cause.

The tapas served locally are more voluminous than their authentic counterparts. In Spain, tapas are small portions, usually served as a complementary adjunct to drinks. From the inception of the tapas tradition, purveyors quickly found that the saltiness of the hammy little fly-deflectors increased beverage sales--and the close relationship between tapas and drinking was born. In the Basque tradition, larger and non-complementary servings are called pinchos, and biggest yet are racions, still not a full-blown entree. While the portions at Pomodoro were by no means gluttonous, they were ample, with two orders creating a solid foundation for a meal.

Pomodoro's Caesar Salad ($5.95) was generously portioned and unremarkably satisfying, while we found the hefty Spinach Salad's ($4.95) brown bacon vinaigrette thick and heavy, leaving us crying "Uncle!" before completion. It's not that we weren't still hungry: we went on to order Bananas Foster ($6.95), prepared table-side in an impressive if somewhat embarrassing ritual. After our server rolled out the butane-loaded burner cart, we sat and grinned sheepishly as she poured a shockingly large quantity of rum into a pan, cut up a ripe banana, and created a small inferno. While the result may not have warranted all the hullabaloo, the intriguing mixture of booze, fruit, and ice cream went down smoothly. The AA, always the spunky sparkplug of the Chow staff, was back to her old fun-loving ways, evidenced by her showing me (again) how she could fold a napkin into a star. Good food heals, and our hurt feelings over the table problem had been salved by the solid and tempting Pomodoro eats. Even as we muttered "whatever" as we exited--passing the still-empty table we had previously been denied--our eyes twinkled the special glow seen only among satisfied diners.

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