So often the word "tapas" is stretched; weighed down with a restaurateur's visions of grandeur until there's barely a shred of the original meaning left. Tapas have become a catchall of anything smaller than an entrée, of anything more casual than a three-course meal. Ocho bucks that trend. The small storefront in a former hot-dog stand makes no claims beyond the simple single-serving small plates that you'll find all over Spain, yet rarely in Seattle.
The restaurant was packed on a recent Monday, spilling out onto the corner patio, like a beer that was filled too high, foam pouring tantalizing down the side of a frosted glass. Tables are just close enough together for the occasional eavesdrop, but far enough apart that a couple could cuddle without making their neighbor feel awkward. The seats and tables are modern wood, but from eye-level up, the décor is lifted from grandma's house, with sconces dotting pink, textured wallpaper. Like the food, the ambience sees no reason to add unnecessary complexity.
Ocho offers simple eating and talking food. Pa amb Tomàquet is a garlic-rubbed tomato toast that is ubiquitous in the tapas bars in Spain. Ocho's version was as it should be: a piece of bread, toasted to provide a hard surface on which to scrape the garlic, a dollop of tomato, and a slightly melted piece of cheese to hold the whole thing together. It didn't try to upgrade the toast to better bread; it didn't try to offer its own signature twist. It just was--a classic, done in exactly that fashion.
Restaurants can be complex, with multiple menus, confusing dish titles, or a specific process for ordering or eating. Ocho laughs in the face of all that, offering a single list of dishes, most simple enough that all ingredients are listed in the title (see the padron peppers, yielding a large pile of blistered peppers). Around the room, there were first dates, old friends catching up, groups laughing over savory snacks. It was relaxed, and affordable, coming out under $20 a person with tax and tip (not including drinks). It's easy to see why the only way Ocho bucked the classic theme was by staying open on Monday--and staying crowded on Monday.