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The Hired Belly: Top notch tapas at Salida 7

Nicli's new neighbour already a hit

Culinary fads come and go, some more rapidly than others. But Spanish fans can take heart in a number of newcomers, particularly the arrival of Salida 7, unveiled this past week in Gastown.
Spanish cuisine in Vancouver was decidedly in the doldrums — a curious state of affairs, considering its evolving sophistication and recognition elsewhere. Blame that, in part, on the unflagging success of West Coast small plates.

The regionally styled riff on tapas was started a couple of decades ago by Gord Martin and his Bin 941.

We’ve gained worthy Spanish entries in the form of España and Sardine Can, but Salida 7 marks the first new room with homegrown Spanish know-how behind it.

In a space that’s seen a string of failures since long ago La Brochette, Salida 7 comes hot on the heels of the closing of Howe Street’s La Bodega, a go-to tapas destination since the ’70s.

Owned by a partnership of well-connected Spanish food and wine types, Salida 7 shows plenty of promise. The newcomers spent months transforming the dingy former nightclub into a bright and cheerful setting, highlighted by contemporary Spanish art upstairs and downstairs a tongue-in-cheek mural that sneaks Gaudi’s celebrated Sagrada Familia into the Gastown landscape.

In the kitchen, chef Sandro Olivieri’s resumé includes a stage at Girona’s famed El Bulli.

Now with Olivieri’s authentic Catalonia focus, it looks as if Salida 7 (named for the exit you take when driving to Girona from Barcelona) could yield the boost that Spanish cuisine needs in Vancouver.

The chef sources local ingredients for classic tapas and mains, often with an innovative twist. They’re classically grounded — and detail driven but not fussy — with a refreshingly modern personality. Top tastes? Go for the Salt Spring “Gaudi” mussels, scallops with tomato confit, superb gazpacho and Escalivada — a salty, sweet and savoury combo of sardines, roasted red peppers and black olive coulis. Also worth checking out: the seabass and lobster casserole, Dungeness crab and “Arrojesat” — a traditional regional rice dish.

2 Alexander St., phone 604-569-3088.

Nicli’s neighbour
A block away from Salida 7 is more evidence of what’s driving Gastown’s dining revival. As the name suggests, Nicli’s Next door is an addendum to Neapolitan pizza specialist Antica Nicli. The narrow, red-bricked room, which isn’t directly connected (more evidence of out-dated liquor laws) contrasts to the more modern feel of its award-winning pizzeria sibling.

The central bar (made from reclaimed old growth fir) dominates but also complements the wood and brick used extensively throughout for a cozy feel.

Nicli’s Next Door blends the best of both worlds. Conceived as part wine bar with plenty of small bites (“cicchetti”), it also offers a wealth of smartly conceived share plates. No surprise, it’s already a destination neighbourhood room with a nightly convivial buzz.

I was struck by the care that goes into these dishes, right from our initial taste: a vibrant “shooter” of cold fresh pea soup, with creme fraiche mousse and citrus preserve. Another fun (and filling) taste: the “not Scotch egg,” an intricate nod to the icon of British pub fare, with Italian sausage, flor di latte, runny yolk and a smoky egg white aioli. There’s also ricotta gnocchi, San Marzano tomato, fior di latte, fresh basil and  house bread, all offered with smart and affordable wine matches.

Nicli’s Next Door, once conceived as a holding lounge for its ever popular neighbour, is well on its way to a life of its own.

68 East Cordova St, 604-669-6985,