Tapas, for those sad souls among you who’ve never had it, is a type of Spanish cuisine originating in Andalusian bars as a type of snack food that you ordered with alcohol. Now, tapas is an incredible opportunity to eat many, many little plates of food, basically perfect in how they allow you to try new things and share with the table — read: eat everyone else’s delicious food. Just outside of Penn’s Landing is what’s consistently touted as one of the top tapas restaurants and perhaps one of the best restaurants in the city, Amada. Since it was Restaurant Week not long ago, I had to go.
To get to Amada, you ideally get an Independence Pass, because SEPTA’s regional rail doesn’t run directly to Penn’s Landing. Heading out from Swarthmore station, I took the Media/Elwyn line to 30th Sreet Station and then switched to the Market-Frankford Line, which I took down to 2nd Street. I then walked down a rather unwelcoming side alley and tried to find Amada, which was a bit harder than necessary. Amada’s storefront is clean and white, but rather unassuming — make sure you look up as you walk, as the sign is rather high.
Entering the restaurant, we were led through the main dining area, which was both intriguingly open-kitchen and unfortunately loud. One of the best parts of eating tapas is watching the dishes being prepared, so it was a good idea for Amada to try to maximize the number of patrons that could see into the kitchen — but the Friday I went wasn’t anything special, and the noise from the kitchen and the dull roar of dinner conversation was rather incredible. This was, assuredly, a consequence of Amada’s intense trendiness, which manifested in a few structurally-superfluous, elegant, but completely sound-permeable honeycomb space dividers in the middle of an actually enormous dining space. If you want to watch the food being prepared, aim for an early dinner — I was glad to be seated in the side room.
For the first course, my dinner date and I got some Garrotxa cheese, pimientos de Padrón, escalivada, and the gambas al ajillo; I also ordered one of their house sangrias, the temporada. The meal was rather overwhelming to receive, and thinking back on it, I am still overwhelmed. We’ll just have to go in order.
The Garrotxa was an odd type of cheese — I’ve never had a cheese that tasted quite so ambiguous. It definitely wasn’t sharp, but was it creamy? It wasn’t quite savory, but what was it? It came with thin slices of baguette and Granny Smith apples and a dulce de leche dip that tasted very, very faintly of garlic. It was ambiguously delicious, and the dip was fascinating; I would definitely recommend it. The pimientos — small peppers — were flash-fried and perfectly salted; my date, who’s incredibly sensitive to spiciness, was surprisingly still able to eat them.
I ordered the escalivada without knowing what it was, and it turned out to be cold pepper, onion, tomato, and goat cheese bruschetta. Generally speaking, tapas are divided into cold and hot dishes, so it’s not that the escalivada was improperly handled — but I do question the decision to have cold bruschetta. It was delicious, but cold, caramelized onions have a texture that doesn’t sit well with me. In contrast, the gambas al ajillo came out on an iron pan sitting in a still-sizzling garlic reduction. It was incredible. We basically inhaled them — a tragedy: it seemed like they had barely existed.
At this point, I set out to find the restroom and was directed to the world’s longest, thinnest hallway only lit by candles. Walking down the hallway, I wondered what the benefit would be to having such an intimately decorated space leading to the restroom, of all things. Perhaps, I decided, Amada was just so dedicated to their aesthetic that they were unwilling to compromise with electric lights even here. Or maybe, it might convince people who were uncertain about their evenings to give their date another chance. Walking back to the table, I resolved to include a similar, bizarrely sensual hallway in my dream house.
Almost immediately after returning, the second course was brought out. We had ordered the arroz temporado, the bacalao, the panceta, and the hilariously named madre e hijo, which was chicken breast and egg. Let’s talk about the worst first: the arroz temporado. The arroz was unabashedly bland. The rice was rather… wet, and the mushrooms too heavy. Of all the dishes we had, the arroz was the only one we didn’t finish. All the other main dishes were, thankfully, absolutely amazing. The bacalao was served in a shallow dish with a small portion of tomato and pepper stew. I had to admire the chef’s artistry: the blackened cod was topped with fennel, and the surrounding stew in the plate brought to mind the geometric starkness of the modernists. The panceta was fascinating. Pancetta — note the double t’s — is an Italian bacon made from pork belly, often served as a thin cold cut. This panceta — one t — was a crispy yet tender and rich piece of fried pork belly, served with shallot jam and a cauliflower puree: amazing. I could have had at least two more. The madre e hijo, unfortunately, had been completely eaten by my date during my restroom detour. I was assured that it was both tender and delicious.
Our dessert arrived — how do I describe the dessert? The tarta de chocolate was the most chocolaty thing I have ever experienced. It was like God had distilled the quintessence of chocolate into a tiny little slice of cake. And then he realized that he had created a dessert too perfect for man to experience, so he covered it with vanilla ice cream to bring the taste down to something that wouldn’t kill. In comparison, the crema catalana — which I think was probably decent — was forgettable. I have, in fact, completely forgotten what it tasted like.
Although I do recommend Amada to everyone who loves food, Amada’s price point is slightly ridiculous. Because it was Restaurant Week, the total for both me and my date was $70 pre-tax and pre-alcohol — and while $35 per person is, without doubt, an absolute steal for food of this quality, the total cost of everything we ordered on the regular dinner menu would be well over $90 pre-tax, pre-alcohol — prohibitive. Despite the price and the travel, you should definitely go before you leave Swat — but go during Restaurant Week, or be prepared to spend an arm and at least half a leg.
Pros: Ridiculously trendy; delicious house sangrias; a candle-lit hallway to the bathrooms
Cons: Main room spectacularly loud; hard to find; boring rice
Recommend: Pancetta, so crispy, yet still tender; tarta de chocolate, unbelievably intense, incredible.
Atmosphere: Moody, romantic