One of the most fully stocked repositories of Spanish culinary supplies in all of the United States.
The Spanish Table, a mini-world of culinary Spain transported to the Pacific Northwest. ©The Spanish Table.
Author: Christopher Hall/©ICEX
Publication Date: 29 Jun 2012
On an otherwise nondescript block in downtown Seattle, Washington, just below the city's famous Pike Place Market and not far from its iconic Space Needle, there's an almost magical door. Enter it and you step into a mini-world of culinary Spain somehow transported to the Pacific Northwest.
The door belongs to The Spanish Table, a shop that imports and sells cooking utensils and pans, foods, and wines unique to Spain and, to a lesser extent, Portugal. One of the most fully stocked repositories of Spanish culinary supplies in all of the United States, the Seattle shop is the firm's flagship and headquarters, with locations in the San Francisco Bay Area (Berkeley and Mill Valley) and in Santa Fe, New Mexico, as well.
"We were among the first to import many of the Spanish foods and utensils you now find around the United States," says Steve Winston, who founded The Spanish Table in Seattle in 1995 with his wife, Sharon Baden.
The Spanish Table story actually began ten years earlier, in 1985, when Steve and Sharon were sitting in a Seattle bar with friends who were going to Spain. "They asked if we wanted to come along," recalls Steve, and the ten-day trip that followed was a revelation as they discovered a passionate love for Spain and its food.
For the next ten years, as Steve worked for the United States Custom Service and Sharon worked as a freight expediter, the couple made twice-yearly trips to Spain, returning with supplies so they could cook authentic Spanish food at home. "Back then in the United States," says Steve, "there was no pimentón (a type of Spanish paprika), bomba rice for paella, or many other Spanish supplies. The first U.S. cookbook about Spanish tapas, by Penelope Casas, listed many substitute ingredients, but now you can find just about everything you need."
In 1995, Steve quit his customs job to open The Spanish Table while Sharon kept her job a while longer before joining her husband in the new venture. "It was tough at first to actually find products to sell," says Steve, "and that's how we became importers." For the first two years, business was slow. Then, in January 1998, the influential U.S. food magazine Saveur listed the Seattle shop on its annual top 100 list. "That was a game-changer for us," says Steve.
High quality products galore
Today, the 2,800-square-foot Seattle location is packed with shiny copper cataplanas (from Portugal), earthenware cazuelas in a wide variety of sizes, presses for making churros, and a big selection of paella pans, including one that can feed 200 people. Shelves are stocked with everything from Spanish mineral water, membrillo paste, cardoons, extra virgin olive oils, vinegars, music CDs, legumes & beans, and cookbooks, to boquerones, squid ink, olives, Spanish beers and ciders, fig jam, Marcona almonds, Romesco sauce, and fresh padrón peppers when they're in season. In refrigerated cases, you'll find cured meat products such as chorizo, lomo, morcilla, and hams.
Racks hold upwards of 900 Spanish wines, including vintages from virtually all of Spain's wine regions--Rueda to Rioja, Navarra to Jumilla, Ribera del Duero to Priorat, Penedès, and La Mancha. There are also old Riojas from as far back as 1970, and dozens of sherries. "In library wines," says Sharon, who oversees the Seattle shop's wine department, "we try to stock anything that's rare and delicious. And as for the sherries, I personally find them fascinating. I love the dry ones, the finos and the manzanillas. They're great with food."
In an adjacent store called Paris Grocery, also owned by Steve and Sharon, the selection of cut-to-order Spanish cheese may well be the best in the United States. "For years," says Steve, "Manchego was the predominant Spanish cheese in the U.S. But now many more regional cheeses are showing up, and we usually sell fifty or more kinds of Spanish cheese." Among them are such rarities in the U.S. as Tou del Til-lers (a soft-ripened cow's milk cheese from Catalonia), Monte Enebro goat's milk cheese from Ávila (Castile-Leon), coffee-washed cow's milk El Farcell de Vilatzara, and the saffron-perfumed, sheep's milk Queso Curado al Azafrán.
The Spanish Table sells online as well, shipping all over the world, though Internet sales are a relatively minor part of the business. "People who come into our stores are still an important core of our business," says Sharon. "We make connections with them. We sell to them but we also give advice on menus, recipes, and wine-food pairings. Customers sometimes call with questions while in the middle of cooking a recipe." In 2009, Steve published The Spanish Table: Traditional Recipes and Wine Pairings from Spain and Portugal, a compendium of the recipes that he and Sharon had collected, used, and passed on to customers over the years.
More than 25 years after Steve and Sharon first fell in love with Spain's food, they continue to cook Spanish dishes whenever their busy schedules permit. Each year on Three Wise Men -a major January 5th holiday in Spain and other countries- they host a staff-and-friends tapas party as a way to celebrate the conclusion of the busy Christmas season. And on his birthday, which occurs during the summer, Steve himself cooks for friends. The menu? Paella for fifty.
Christopher Hall is food writer and www.foodsfromspain.com correspondant for US West Coast.