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March 18, 2009 at 10:43 AM

Jose Andres: From coast to coast, his name is on their lips

Last month L.A. Times restaurant critic Sherry Virbila gave his Beverly Hills hotter-than-hotspot “a rare four-star restaurant review,” insisting, “Los Angeles has never seen anything remotely like this exciting restaurant from Spanish chef Jose Andres.” Days later the Wall Street Journal profiled his rise to prominence as “the face of Spanish food in America.” And today the New York Times kicked-off a series that has critic Frank Bruni hitting the road for a national tour of significant new restaurants. Dateline: Los Angeles. Subject: Jose Andres. But last night, the four-star face of Spanish food in America was doing what everyone does when they come to Seattle: eating Dungeness crab.

Jose, hoisting a crab leg with his wife, Patricia, at Flying Fish

Perhaps you’ve been to one of his eight restaurants or charmed by his PBS persona on “Made in Spain.” And, who knows? Maybe you were sitting behind the chef on the Metro bus yesterday morning as he and wife, Patricia, headed to West Seattle’s Bakery Nouveau for breakfast. “I just wanted a cup of coffee and a pastry, but he wants this, and this and this,” Patricia says, using her finger to make a visual point.

Eating too much is all in a day’s work for her husband, whose voracious appetite — for life and the foods that make it worth living — gets a prodigious workout. Pointing to his midriff, he says, “I’ve got triplets in there.” You’re preaching to the choir, pal! It’s an occupational hazard. (In fact, the couple has three young daughters at home in Washington, D.C.)

After breakfast in West Seattle, Jose toured the Market, noshing along the way. And when a fishmonger at Pike Place Fish recognized him from his battle with Bobby Flay on “Iron Chef” and begged for an autograph, the chef obliged, waiting while the fishman ran off to grab a Jose Andres cookbook and a pen. Eying Seattle seafood at the Market is enough to give a guy the jones for some, which is why, later in the evening, I found Jose at that other venue for flying fish: Flying Fish. I’ve always wanted to eat here,” he said, offering to share his platter of salt-and-pepper Dungeness crab with sesame noodles:

That “appetizer” was part of a roving dinner that began earlier at the Madison Valley tapas bar “What do you call it? The Grape Vine?” (No, senor, we call it The Harvest Vine). And then Jose, Patricia, their Spanish wine-importing pals Almudena and Steve and I headed up the street to Taberna Del Alabardero. There, Jose met up with his friend (and fellow D.C. restaurateur) Paco Pena:

Paco was playing host to a houseful of Spanish-speaking customers enjoying this week’s Paella Festival at Taberna, the Spanish restaurant and bar I introduced you to in this December post: the one whose happy hour got the big thumbs up right here. For the duration of the festival (through March 22), chef Jose Maria Larossa shares his kitchen with visiting paella-master David Montero from Spain’s Barraca del Arroz:

Top toques David Montero (left), Jose Andres and Jose Maria Larossa

Together Montero and Larossa are preparing a dozen different rice dishes. And if they’re all as good as the arroz meloso de perdiz — a “soupy” saffron-scented specialty served tableside by charming and elegant Spaniards — I insist you get in there right now.

The price is right: $20 per person with a two-person minimum (P.S. did I mention they’re open for lunch?). While you’re there, you must try some of this:

Nice gams! That’s Jamon Serrano (left) and the luscious acorn-fed Iberico (right).

By now you may be wondering: If Jose Andres is such a hot commodity, what’s he doing here, taking the bus to West Seattle, hanging at the bar at Flying Fish and yukking it up over acorn-fed Iberico and “soupy rice” with the likes of me?

Well, as I write he’s hanging with his hero Dale Chihuly, learning how to blow glass. And later this evening, he and the face of American glass-art — along with their wives — will be dining at the Clyde Hill home of Renee and Carl Behnke, where they’ll join 10 lucky guests for a multicourse meal inspired by the glass artist. Each course is paired with an array of exceptional Spanish wines, natch. The dinner is a collaboration donated by Andres, Chihuly, Classical Wines and the Behnkes, and it raised $11,000 for the arts at the 18th Annual PONCHO International Wine Auction, “Viva el Arte! — a Salute to Spain.”

Meanwhile, late last night, at the bar at Taberna, a trio of Jose’s right-hand-men were taking a break after a day spent procuring ingredients for the big dinner — which they’ll prepare tonight in Kirkland:

But before heading back to their hotel for a good night’s sleep, they had their sights set on one more Seattle stop: Spur.

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