Tucked into the downtown corner of 11th and A is a little spot you’ve probably walked past several times. On first glance you may only notice the USPS trucks, customers with packages and a dreary, long post office line. But then, what’s that smell? Fresh pasta? A hint of sherry? And red wine... mixed with coca-cola? YES! That is what you smell! Now, drop off your package and head to the twinkling lights next door. The entrance of En Rama.
Although small in size, once through the front door, En Rama radiates the Tacoma motif. Instantly greeted by local Beautiful Angle poster art, your eyes (and nose) are drawn back toward the open view kitchen which is encased by bookshelves containing classic cooking literature and a small library of libation-focused content. Cozy, yet open, seems the best description of this little slice of Courthouse Square.
Last month, John and I came in to celebrate our one year anniversary using a gift card given to us as a wedding present. After taking a seat, I glanced over the cocktail menu and there it was, the “Lavender”. A drink I adore and only ever experienced at the now closed Hilltop Kitchen. Lavender simple syrup, vodka and lemon shaken together with coconut milk makes for a delicate and delightful experience. All I can say is, “It’s like a spa day, for your mouth.”
Down the menu we went-- Starting with small Spanish-inspired tapas and a charcuterie plate for two. I have a few dietary restrictions and the staff were happy to work with me, while doing their best to keep the flavor original. We’ll just say there was goat cheese-a-plenty (Amirite’ my fellow lactose intolerant friends?). We each selected a house made pasta from the seasonal menu and hardly spoke as we took in the first bites of fall. Rich, but not too rich, our carefully crafted dishes warmed us up until the very last bite. This year one anniversary was a great success. Oh, and dessert? Another “Lavender” please.
While on this visit, I also learned about another “quirk” that makes En Rama unique and quite possibly the reason why it exists at all. You’ve seen rum bars, whiskey taverns and beer tap houses, but have you ever heard of a sherry bar? Us either. With such a large selection of styles, how most people explore the flavors of the world by plane or plate, these guys take you there glass by glass.
Of course, I wanted to know more. So, a week or so ago, I headed downtown with past client and now close friend, Laura Ingalls (real name!), to do a little research for this Fair Pair blog. After all, Fair Pair is focused around taking our clients to local spots where we explore the tastes, stylings and history of Tacoma. Lucky for us, owner Chris Kiel was behind the bar the day we came in. Chris has actually had a few Tacoma dining endeavors, including 1022 and Hilltop Kitchen. Oh how happy I was to find him (and my drink again), but the story of En Rama was different from the rest and he was happy to share.
Chris had gone on a backpacking trip with friends a few years back. When not venturing around, Chris used his down time to crack open a book and relax. The subject of the book he brought? You guessed it - sherry. Most evenings, the group would gather to share a meal and recount stories about their travels. One particular evening, Chris realized he had actually packed a bottle of his current literary choice and decided to share.
Out the bottle came and around the group it went. The conversations carried through the evening as they discussed passions between sips of sherry and bites of classic camping snacks. Chris specifically remembered passing around Cheetos. As most know, camping cuisine hardly qualifies as a fine dining experience. That night though, in the midst of sharing the fortified Spanish wine, they realized, “Man, sherry really goes with… anything.” There gathered with friends surrounded by “unique” flavors, the idea for En Rama was born.
Laura and I wanted to test this “anything goes” idea but instead of diving into the sea of sherry options, we strolled through the craft cocktails page. I of course started with my “Lavender” and searched for our strange snack pairing. I came across a homemade classic from the menu that I couldn’t resist, pickled vegetables. It sounds like a strange pairing, but these babies are well flavored, seasoned in house and remind of the times when our neighbors would pass a jar of personally crafted pickles over the fence. It’s also these types of pairings that tend to worry John our family might be growing (No mom, you’re not a grandma yet).
Laura however explored a drink that made us reminisce in the days of sitting on the back porch enjoying a frozen Push Up. You know, Fred Flintstone’s favorite frozen treat? The “Clever Liza” consists of coconut infused vodka, orange, peach, vanilla and sparkling wine. And when you’re a big kid in your 30’s, wine pretty much makes everything better. Speaking of which, we also spotted a concoction Laura informed me is a Spanish-inspired favorite of hers. Far from the scope of our previous choices, somehow the red wine based “Black Vulture” landed in front of us. Stirred with Amaro and Mexican Coke this boldly bittersweet drink was the perfect metaphor for the end of our evening.
The classic T-Town love story of “old building meets new exciting ventures” plays out well in the booths of En Rama. I would recommend grabbing a seat at the bar and letting your senses guide you through the menu. If you don’t trust your senses that day, tell Chris what you’re in the mood for and he’ll whip you up a “Bartender’s Choice”. Either way, I’m sure you will find a flavor you can also reminisce in while enjoying a venue that takes care to not only showcase Tacoma’s art and dining scene but it’s spirit.