The previously blue sky darkened to near black and thunder rumbled down the street, hard on the heels of several lightning flares. Suddenly hail was rapping...

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The previously blue sky darkened to near black and thunder rumbled down the street, hard on the heels of several lightning flares. Suddenly hail was rapping furiously on the small square windowpanes of Andaluca’s snug dining room.

The lunchtime crowd fell silent as all heads momentarily swiveled to view the rapidly whitening outside world. Then, just as quickly, conversation resumed as people returned to their pear and Stilton salad, their pita-wrapped lamb burger or their pan of roasted mussels.

“That’s Seattle for you,” a server remarked. “All four seasons can happen in one day.”

And that’s Andaluca for you, I thought. Nothing intrudes on its cloistered calm, not even Mother Nature.

If ever there was a restaurant ripe for romantic rendezvous, it is this intimate, Mediterranean-style enclave in the Mayflower Park Hotel. A warren of booths makes for many private nooks in a dining room sumptuously adorned with dark woods, playful chandeliers and glowing murals. And the staff tends to business with a professional reserve that suggests what happens at Andaluca, stays at Andaluca.

The restaurant seems to have changed little since it opened a decade ago, right down to the jewel-toned glass bread-and-butter plates — or more precisely, bread-and-hummus plates, since a pot of that garlicky chickpea spread accompanies the basket full of soft potato bread.

Even the menu looks familiar. You’ll still find crispy duck cakes and lamb dolmas, Tuscan bread soup and roasted mussels, Zarzuela shellfish stew and cabrales-crusted beef tenderloin — faithfully reproduced by chef Wayne Johnson, who took over as executive chef in 1999. He hews to the Mediterranean concept and has made contributions of his own to the repertoire, while keeping the menu relevant to the seasons.

Andaluca 2.5 stars

407 Olive Way (in the Mayflower Park Hotel), Seattle



$$$ /$$$$

Reservations: Recommended.

Hours: Breakfast 6:30-11 a.m. Mondays-Fridays, 7 a.m.-noon Saturdays-Sundays; lunch 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. daily; dinner 5-10 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays, 5-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays.

Prices: Breakfast $8.50-$14; lunch appetizers $4.50-$15, entrees $13-$18; dinner appetizers $6-$15, entrees $19-$38.

Drinks: The wine list is evenly split between American and European bottles, with a varied

selection by the glass and half-bottle.

Parking: Complimentary valet parking.

Sound: Quiet conversation possible.

Who should go: A great date place, for business or for pleasure.

Credit cards: All major ones accepted.

Access: Wheelchair access to restrooms through the elevator in the hotel lobby.

What has changed over the years, not surprisingly, are the entree prices.

That tenderloin started out at $21; it’s now $38 and still the priciest item on the menu. Unfortunately the steak disappointed recently: The blue cheese and breadcrumb “crust” was soggy and the meat itself, though medium rare as requested, yielded little in the way of juices to mingle with the marsala demi-glace and moisten the potatoes mashed with Idiazabal cheese.

Herb-marinated lamb chops were much superior. Three juicy double-cut loin chops extend slender rib bones that beg to be used as a handle. Go ahead. Pick them up. Your waiter will look the other way as you mop up the dregs of the blackberry demi-glace and clean those bones.

Pumpkin risotto ($19), the least expensive dinner entree, captures autumn on a plate. It’s a ruddy rice dish packed with squash, chard, chives, red and green chili peppers and candied walnut halves. The underlying heat of cayenne punches up the flavors of cumin, clove and cinnamon, making every bite a delight.

Paella has plenty of complexity, too. Made with short-grain arborio rice cooked with saffron and harissa, it’s much like a seafood risotto. The mussels, clams and asparagus spears arranged on top were a bit dry — and the jumbo grilled prawn rising like Shamu out of the center was a chewy devil — but excavate the golden grains and you’ll find sweet small shrimp, chunks of chicken breast and moist chorizo crumbles.

In contrast to the lively rice dishes, a lunch entree of linguine with prawns was mired in cream sauce so excessively rich and overloaded with saffron it grew tedious after just a few forkfuls.

Tedium is not something you’ll encounter grazing through the palate-teasing assortment of small plates that also serve as shareable appetizers. A calamari trio delivers the usual breaded and fried version but also two spicier renditions devoid of breading: one marinated in peppery harissa sauce, the other smothered with saffron aioli.

A gorgeously composed meze plate offers spicy red and gold beets, minty tabbouleh, grilled asparagus, pickled red onion and whole mushrooms marinated with rosemary and oregano. Perched on top is a “beggar’s purse,” a flaky phyllo sack filled with herbed goat cheese.

Phyllo also forms paquettes, fragile pockets oozing a sweet-sharp blend of guava paste and molten mahon cheese topped with tangy olive salsa. That jazzy juxtaposition of sweet, savory and sharp is reprised when sweet warm dates are plumped with chorizo and goat cheese and served with a citrus-dressed radicchio and pistachio salad.

Let that parade of small plates lead you right to pastry chef Sachia Tinsley’s desserts. Arrange an assignation with a nutty tart crowded with almonds, cashews, pistachios and fresh fig, sticky with pepper-flecked caramel and topped with vanilla gelato. Or rendezvous with a couple of cookies; excellent chocolate macaroons anchor an opulent, edible still life that includes whole, candy-covered chestnut “lollipops,” bittersweet chocolate sauce, pomegranate seeds and silky chestnut cream spilling from a dainty cup made of tuille cookie petals. For an extra $4, you can pair up with a suggested dessert wine, too.

Go ahead. Indulge. It’s your affair. They’ll never tell.

Providence Cicero:

Sample menu

Calamari Trio $13.00

Vegetable Meze $8.75

Stuffed Dates $8.50

Paella $26.00

Herb-marinated lamb chops $37.00