Cafe Society

Ondo's stays true to its Spanish inspiration

"The husband-and-wife team that owns the place spent a few years in northern Spain," my server explained when I asked her about the dishes at Ondo's, the last restaurant Jason Sheehan reviewed before leaving Denver. "Obviously, you're going to have twists sneak in anywhere, but they really try to adhere to what they learned there."

She carefully guided me through the lunch menu, a collection of tapas, imported conservas — like preserved olives and anchovies and razor clams — and bocadillos, Spanish sandwiches on crusty bread. (At night the sandwiches are supplanted by entrees, including paella and squid in its own ink.) She highlighted her favorites, and even offered to sell me half orders so that I could sample more dishes.

Finally making my decision, I settled back at my corner table, sipping a dry, red sangria and watching the very end of a lunch rush that had apparently overwhelmed the staff so much that they hadn't yet had time to clear the remnants of a couple of meals off the tables. I was glad to see that Ondo's had been busy.

After a five-year cooking stint in San Sebastian and Barcelona, Curt and Deicy Steinbecker moved back to Denver and decided to start a restaurant. They picked up the subterranean space in Cherry Creek North that had been French 250, gave the perpetually dark spot a shot of warmth with golds and reds, and opened Ondo's in the fall of 2009. From the start, they wanted to give diners a true Spanish experience, complete with sherry cocktails, an all-Spanish (and decidedly geeky) wine list, and treats imported from the Iberian peninsula, like those conservas. I'd opted for Manzanilla olives stuffed with anchovies, and $5 bought me a giant dish. I went through them so quickly that my affable server pointed out that Ondo's also sells them in jars and cans.

She also said the kitchen would sell me some sausage, which Ondo's gets from an importer, after I raved about it. The piquant Spanish chorizo, juicy and taut in its casing, had been sliced in half lengthwise and laid on top of a piece of toast painted with a thick layer of date-flecked mascarpone cheese. You could have put that sausage on anything and I would have eaten it, but it worked particularly well as a spicy, savory element playing off the creamy sweetness of the base.

But the best part of my lunchtime feast was an order of croquetas, which boasted a thin, brittle layer of deep-fried breading encapsulating an ethereally light and creamy blend of béchamel studded with Serrano ham. The croquetas were stunning, better than any I'd found in Spain.

After my disappointing meals at the 9th Door, I was thrilled to find that Ondo's has stayed true to its intentions, true to its Spanish inspiration. I was stuffed after my meal there, but I couldn't wipe the smile off my face — and I couldn't wait for the next time I'd be able to return for another taste of Spain.