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That's the consensus response to Si, a tapas restaurant that opened in the Fan in mid-September.
Owner Mo Roman, whose first Richmond venture was Bank, has transformed a small space that for years was the popular Caffé di Pagliacci, and more recently the short-lived Wooden Spoon, into a tiny slice of Espa¤a.
A tapa (lid or cover) originally was a small, complementary dish (similar to the French amuse bouche) placed atop a wineglass to reward regulars in the corner bars that dot Spain. Tapas, no longer free on either side of the Atlantic, come in dozens of varieties meant for sharing.
Most of the nearly three dozen kinds of tapas at Si cost $7 to $9, divided among vegetarian, meat and poultry, seafood and salad dishes. Si also offers three larger plates, of steak, salmon and paella, from $16 to $21.
In two visits we devoured a dozen dishes and are ready to return for more. (To get in the mood, begin with a plate of marinated olives or anchovies and a glass of sangria or wine from the expansive list of Spanish offerings.)
Here are some of the best: Beet and Asian pear salad, featuring Spain's most famous cheese, Manchego, whisked into foam as fluffy as a cloud.
Paper-thin, shaved Serrano ham with caramelized black mission figs, the salty meat contrasting convivially with the sweet, fleshy fruit; or similarly, cloyingly sweet dates wrapped in crispy bacon.
Stuffed squid, in which the calamari casing is filled with ground sausage and shrimp served atop a bowl of rice, blackened by squid ink and crispy from being cooked in a casserole dish.
A pair of lamb meatballs with a tomato sauce spiced with harissa -- roasted chilies slowly cooked in olive oil along with a whole garlic and dashes of cumin, coriander and caraway.
Twin crab cakes, medium-sized, packed with lump meat and braced by julienned celeriac-apple slaw.
Minced chicken and ham croquetas, deep-fried and shaped like fingerling potatoes, bound by a béchamel sauce.
Crispy calamari delicately fried for dipping in saffron aioli and spicy tomato sauce; one couple liked it so well they ordered a second round for dessert.
The only disappointments were a potato tortilla with parsley and sea salt, served cold, which lacked flavor and texture, and a plate of wild mushrooms with parsley and almonds, dry despite a slice of lemon.
Si offers four homemade desserts, including an almond minicake slathered with a Seville-orange glaze and topped with macerated cherries that is perfect for sharing.
The tapas are prepared under the supervision of Chef Joshua Ball, 32, who worked a short stint in a high-end Spanish restaurant in Washington, D.C. Ball's restaurant career began during high school at Shackleford's in the West End. After a decade of experience cooking with acclaimed chefs across the country and in France, he then returned to Richmond to work downtown at Bank.
Roman, who also owns three other restaurants in the Fredericksburg area, said the idea for tapas developed while brainstorming with his staff about what concept would best fit the Fan location.
Service at Si for the most part is informed and pleasant, although we had to ask for bread, as well as clean plates and utensils midway through the evening.
Si has two dining rooms, a lovely-if-noisy smoke-free downstairs and an intimate second-floor lounge with small tables, a leather couch and a white-lighted tree.
The attractive main room, lighted softly by votive candles and drop lights, has high-backed, cushioned banquettes around three sides and a bar-high counter in the middle connected to an outsized sculptured wine rack.
There's no name or other identifying sign yet on the whitewashed building, which has an inviting bench flanked by lampposts on the sidewalk. The only hint of what is inside comes from a sandwich board near the door, with the word "Si" printed above a menu.
A casualty of the repainted exterior was Pagliacci's iconic wall mural that showed two children in a kettle and the slogan "There's a little Italian in every dish."
Now, inside, there's a lot of Spanish in every little dish, and it's the best Spanish food in town. S
Si ($$$ NS)
214 N. Lombardy St.
Dinner nightly, 5-10 p.m. (bar open later)
Sunday brunch, 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
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