A dark, secluded place

Moody, romantic, and labyrinthine, Fernando's Hideaway offers authentic Spanish service and toothsome Spanish fare.

FERNANDO'S HIDEAWAY

522 Wall, 441-0606 lunch 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Mon.-Fri.; happy hour 4-7 p.m. Mon.-Sat.; dinner 5-10 p.m. Mon.-Thurs., 5-11 p.m Fri.-Sat.; brunch 9 a.m.-3p.m. Sat.-Sun. AE, MC, V / full bar IF YOU KNOW that the name Fernando's Hideaway plays off the title of a forgotten novelty number from a 1950s musical, go ahead and feel smug. (Just try to keep the song from getting lodged in your head.) The owners seem to have had second thoughts: A simple "Fernando's" appears atop your bill these days. Often a second "Fernando" stands immediately below, because there is a Fernando: two Fernandos, actually—Fernando Senior, who sold his Hideaway in Portland to try his luck in Seattle, and Fernando Junior, who waits tables, presents the wine list, programs the contemporary flamenco on the sound system, and generally presides over the place like a ponytailed Andaluc� Ariel. If that's not enough truth in packaging for you, Fernando's is a hideaway, situated a few blocks off Belltown's restaurant row in what used to be the Grove Restaurant at Sixth and Wall. And damned if it isn't rather like the "dark, secluded place" in the old Adler and Ross song. The Spanish like their restaurants moody, romantic, and labyrinthine, and Fernando's is all of those: a quirky warren of rooms where, if you've a mind to, "you will be free . . . to gaze at me . . . and talk of laaaaaw-uuuv!" The service is pure Spanish, too. On my first visit to Fernando's, I was acutely reminded of meals in restaurants in Spain: the pleasantly effusive greeting at the door, the concerned search for just the right table for the se�y se�, the promise to be right back with the menu, the ensuing 15 minutes of solitude watching later-arriving parties receiving the same smooth treatment. . . . Then, just as you're about to send up a napkin distress signal, the waiter's back, so friendly, so attentive, so passionately devoted to helping the se�y se� find just the right appetizers and the best dry sherry to accompany them, you can't help falling in with his cheerful mood. And that's good; it helps you be patient during the ensuing 15 minutes of solitude, when everybody in the world except you seems to be eating, drinking, and having a swell time. But I exaggerate. And once the food arrives, it proves worth the wait. On our first visit we felt compelled to order the house paella ($22 a person, allow half an hour for preparation), but made up for playing tourist by ordering three tapas-type appetizers. All scored high on the authenticity and toothsome scale. Saffron-scented deep-fried calamari ($5.50), served with a creamy sweet-pepper dipping sauce, and prawns pil pil, swimming in peppery, parsley-laced, garlicky oil ($5.50), were fine on their own. The brandada ($6.50), the Spanish version of the heavenly salt-cod-and-potato pur饠the French call brandade de morue, seemed more fitted to be a side dish than an appetizer, but that was just the ugly American in us poking out. WE WERE A LITTLE dubious about taking Fernando Junior's advice on the wine list—could he be old enough to drink?—but since, like most Americans, we are clueless about sherry, we went along with it, with happy result: The half bottle of La Gitana manzanilla ($17), though pale as water, had a sea-salt tang that worked wonders with the appetizers. The paella was fine, with lots of succulent marine and porky bits protruding from a moist, almost mahogany-colored mound of tender rice. But tasting Fernando's version just confirmed our prejudice that you can't really make a Spanish-style paella with Northwest ingredients. The homey Hispanicity of our tapas had spoiled us. The desserts spoiled us all over again. Helado galetas ($5.50) proved to be a creamy lemon-scented ice embedded in a hollowed-out lemon: nice touch, swell flavor. The postre Talismᮼ/I> (also $5.50) was light-as-air white layer cake hiding in a paper-thin meringue wrapper. Washed down with a couple of glasses of Dios Baco cream sherry ($6 per), the meal ended on a high note indeed. We didn't even mind the compulsory 15-minute pause between asking for the check and getting it. Lunch at Fernando's has a different atmosphere—the daylight leaking in, maybe, bringing things down to earth—but the food is just as good, and less expensive, too. Two people may lunch amply on creamy yellow-squash and tangy lentil soup ($4.75 each), a pork tenderloin churrasco ($8.50), and an unusual vegetarian stew featuring garbanzos and bread dumplings ($6.50). The service is the same perversely charming mix of complete attention and benign neglect. Seattle's Spanish community has already got the word about Fernando's: One evening visit was enlivened by a family party of eight, all in black but clearly not in mourning, and the majority of other tables in our room were taken by young couples gazing at each other and talking . . . of laaaaaw-uuuv? I hope so. But, softly spoken, Spanish always sounds like love. rdowney@seattleweekly.com

 
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