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Castilla Tapas Bar & Restaurant

A Spanish gathering place in Bellevue

Central Spanish bodegas (wineries) located in century-old caves serve a tabla of the day consisting of 10-12 tapas on a board. They're always fresh as they're made from whatever the market has that morning. It's a way of life to head to the bodega to meet up with friends for a tabla and glass of vino de la casa.

Castilla's octopus

Growing up with that background, in a family of restaurateurs in Valladolid, Castilla, is it any wonder that Clara Gutierrez Carroll grew up loving food, wine, and people? Her latest venture, Castilla Spanish Restaurant & Tapas Bar, offers over 40 tapas along with traditional flatbreads, paella, soups, salads, and more. "With Castilla, I wanted to be as authentic as possible. Spanish people are proud of our culture and traditional foods. Of course, you need to adapt to your customers and location. Many of our customers have traveled or will be traveling to Spain and they are looking for authentic dishes. When I was first looking at the space, I found out that Bellevue is a shopping destination. People come here and stay in local hotels just to shop at Bellevue Square. So it's important that we also offer Northwest ingredients."

Along with many imported Spanish goods from the various regions in Spain, they use Dungeness crab, Pacific mussels, radishes and microgreens from Woodinville. "I recently got fresh green garbanzo beans from a local farmer and am using them in our paella. You can't get fresh green garbanzo beans in Spain, so it's not truly authentic. And our paella isn't made in the classic way with rabbit; it's made like my family would make it, with chicken and seafood all together. It's one of our best sellers. Our food is as close to authentic as you'll get here."

Clara has created three tablas for the menu: Fermin Jamon Serrano, a mix of Spanish cured meats, and a Spanish cheese board. "I build menus to match what's happening. We opened in November heading into the holidays. I knew we would be busy and food would need to come out of the kitchen fast. Tapas are perfect for that, plus we really have two kitchens here and can do half the menu out of one and half out of the other. Tapas aren't served all at once, so cold items can come out of the smaller kitchen: cheese, anchovies, pâté, salads, charcuterie. Hot items that take longer come from the larger kitchen."


They also have the woodburning oven that came with the space. "It's an amazing oven, a piece of art. Growing up, we had a woodburning oven, so I know how they work. I was concerned about getting it to and keeping it at temperature, and the amount of wood we'd need. We added gas lines so we can more quickly heat it, but food still has the flavor of the wood. We use it a lot - flatbreads, stuffed artichokes, seafood. Everything on the menu is something I really like. I love octopus and people can't get enough of it at Castilla. We get the octopus from Spain, and canned sardines from northern Spain. We grill the sardines and add nuts and garlic to get that Spanish flavor. Our other top seller is the truffle mushroom croqueta. We use a mix of wild mushrooms, porcini powder, and truffle oil, then serve it over aioli."

Presentation of food is very important to Clara. "I learned this from the high-end restaurants I've worked at; it's your first impression of the food. I know that when I see something beautiful, I can taste it before I actually put it in my mouth. It's not as appealing to simply put a plate of potatoes in front of someone. If you add some microgreens, it changes the dish. It's not done in Spain, but we do it here."

Clara is big on training staff to ensure great service. "We have a large menu and we're unique. Our servers have to be extra good; they have to understand the food better than other restaurants where food is more familiar. We're a new experience for many people. Servers need to understand wine and pairing. We have a great crew and Fred Cruz, our bar manager, has fallen in love with Spanish food and wines, and has studied them so he can create unique cocktails to pair. It's so important to get the right people to help you with your vision."

Since opening, Clara feels she learns something new every day. "I learned that there is a huge following for Spanish food. I love to talk with customers and hear about their experiences with Spanish cuisine and travels, it's so fun." In Spain, there are a lot of restaurants, culinary events, and culinary schools. In the past, Clara has had guest chefs from Spain visit and prepare special wine-paired prix fixe dinners. With her networks in Spain, she is working on bringing culinary students here to learn in her kitchen and bring fresh outlooks."

Like everyone in the restaurant industry, Clara feels the ups and downs. "You have to be passionate to do this in order to overcome the challenges you face every day. It can be a roller coaster. But then it gets busy and you're sending food out and people are happy and it's wonderful. What we're doing here is creating a place for people to gather, just like in Spain. We're a place where you can meet a friend, have some Sangria and a tapa and move on. Or stay and have a whole paella!"

Taking the time to stop, talk, savor, and enjoy a connection - let's do more of that.

504 Bellevue Square
Bellevue, WA 98004

Click here to learn about Clara's background

February 2020

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