The Gypsy Kings recorded a version of the Sinatra song "My Way," complete with hard-strumming guitars and strident Spanish lyrics. The tale of rugged individualism seems to be an anthem of sorts at Sevilla, a Brazilian/Spanish restaurant smack-dab in the middle of Baltimore's Greektown.
Twice at the restaurant we heard the song playing faintly in the background as we enjoyed a repast of well-crafted and distinctive Spanish and Brazilian dishes.
No local Spanish restaurant can escape comparison to the city's Spanish-fare behemoth, Tio Pepe. While Tio Pepe is always bustling, with fancy-jacketed waiters tending to frenetic groups of celebrators, Sevilla is a little pocket of calm (except on Saturday nights when the place gets revved up with live flamenco music).
The small dining room is dark and inviting, festooned with bullfighting posters and murals of pretty flamenco dancers. A burbling little fountain, tabletop oil lamps and a decorative wrought-iron canopy lend charm and intimacy to the room.
Sevilla's menu can also be compared to that of Tio Pepe. I go to Tio Pepe to be self-indulgent: no cream sauce is too rich, no hollandaise too buttery.
The flavors at Sevilla are no less vibrant, but the food there seems more like the kind one might eat every day -- simple fish dishes, hearty tapas, all at reasonable prices.
The restaurant's former incarnations as Rio Lisboa and Rio Madrid have left indelible marks on the menu. Many dishes are tagged as "a la" Rio Madrid. The connection to Portugal is more circuitous but can be seen in traditional dishes of Brazil, a former Portuguese colony.
We began our meal with a tapas platter. Shrimp in garlic, a Spanish "tortilla" (a square of cold potato omelet), steamed mussels topped in mango and pepper salsa, and hunks of fried chorizo sausage crowded a pretty platter. All of the flavors were bright and complementary, perfect when accompanied by a glass of fruity sangria (served, as at Tio Pepe, in a pitcher with a big wooden spoon sticking out).
We also sampled a smoky, intense black bean soup and a Rio Madrid salad. All of the salads begin with a base of iceberg lettuce, tomato wedges, cucumber, etc. The hearts of palm salad is topped with a generous portion of the slender, elegant, ivory-colored stems, and the Rio Madrid salad is the hearts of palm salad with the addition of shrimp. The soup was delicious, the salad pleasant, but nothing like the entrees to come.
Feijoada, Brazil's most famous dish, is a rare thing in Baltimore, made all the more alluring by its scarcity. We jumped at the chance to try it. Picture a slow-cooked cassoulet, but the beans are black and the tender meat is spicy chorizo sausage and pork and beef trimmings. The dish comes with little bowls of more black beans, shredded sauteed collard greens, rice and, a Brazilian peculiarity, fluffy manioc meal (manioc is the plant from which we get tapioca). Usually the dish is contrasted with orange wedges, but at Sevilla it comes with brown sugar-stewed bananas.
We also sampled a lovely Spanish lamb chop dish (served, mysteriously, as two lamb chops and a petit filet mignon). It was encircled with crisp, fried potato rounds and a piquant sauce of peppers, onion and vinegar.
Wavering between a traditional Brazilian dish called frango bossa nova (chicken in garlic and parsley sauce) and a Spanish chicken dish, we opted instead for pollo extremena, a savory dish with an appealing dusky brown sauce and bits of green pepper, mushroom and chorizo sausage.
Flan was the only dessert to be had. It was the kind made in a big ring and sliced. Slightly flavored with orange, it was nice but it had the kind of curdly texture that results when the oven temperature changes too rapidly.
We finished up with little chilled glasses of port, and thought wistfully about the sunny southern Spanish city of Sevilla.
4700 Eastern Ave.
Hours: Open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner
Credit cards: Major credit cards
Prices: Appetizers, $4.95-$6.95; entrees, $6.95-$17.95
Pub Date: 4/24/97