June 2008 Issue
June's Featured Restaurant
If you remember Powell when its main attractions were a shooting range and Pendleton’s auto repair, the downtown streets today will seem as familiar to you as half the aunts you invited to your wedding. What was once a fitting home for the country mouse is now an upscale bedroom community, with the cute shops, restaurants and $3 coffees to prove it.
Possibly the cutest of them all is Maca (the name means “cute” in Catalan), a Spanish tapas café that opened last May, and whose first impression is so chic and inviting that we briefly forgot about eating, since hanging out here seemed like it would be satisfying enough. That ended when owner Norman Carmichael sailed by with petite plates of gambas al ajillo (garlic shrimp) and crispy stuffed croquettes. Granted, at 6-feet-10-inches, he’s hard to miss, but the smell of sizzling garlic in olive oil was what snapped us back to attention.
Carmichael spent 10 years playing pro basketball in Barcelona before spending another decade traveling Europe as a wine importer. Spain is like a second home for him and his wife, Susan, and though neither of them had experience in the restaurant industry before opening their cafe, bringing the flavors of the colorful country to their town seemed like a smart business plan.
They do it well. Maca’s menu is a mix of traditional tapas — roasted piquillo peppers stuffed with herbed goat cheese, paella and the classic jamon iberico (a cured ham from a breed of pig found only in Spain) — as well as a list of creative chef’s specials that changes each week. Portions are small, as tapas are intended to be, which gives diners the perfect opportunity to explore the menu without feeling stuffed. The restaurant has a limited bar, including wines from the old world (Spain, France) and new (Australia, New Zealand) and a selection of craft beers. Maca also offer three styles of sherry which, as the drink of the matadors (it hails from the same region of Spain that made bullfighting famous), is a classic match with tapas and a classic memory for Norman. “Give me a chilled Fino (sherry) and some gambas al ajillo, and I’m back on the pier in Barcelona,” he says, somewhat wistfully.
If you go this month, you’ll have the opportunity to enjoy the restaurant’s new outdoor patio, plus a crab boil that the Carmichaels, who originally hail from the East Coast, are planning in celebration of their one-year anniversary. There’s also live music on Wednesday nights, but seating is a little limited and they don’t take reservations, so get there early. — Jenny Pavlasek