Tucked away in the corner of Courthouse Square in what was once a draft office, en Rama is an intimate, softly lit space buzzing with conversation, music, and the fast clink of cocktail shakers. Live flowers and floating bookshelves dot the room, which seats 25 diners and is dominated by a long bar.
The setup speaks to the philosophy behind en Rama, which was opened in 2017 by Tacoma native Christopher Keil — the same creative mind behind 1022 J Street and Hilltop Kitchen. A small space, Keil said, allows the similarly small team of talented chefs and bartenders to take excellent care of each customer; the size of the bar also speaks to Keil’s focus on creating a menu of avant-garde and refined cocktails, which, at en Rama, are all about sherry.
“We’re kind of looking at how we can use our cocktail program as a gateway drug to sherry,” said Keil, laughing. “When most people think of sherry, they think of their grandparents’, sweet sherry.” en Rama — which is named after a type of unfiltered sherry — is in the market to change that conception.
A robust sherry-infused cocktail menu rotates every three months, following with Keil’s tradition of constantly coming up with new drinks for customers to try. The fall menu was a collection of old recipes — think daiquiris and whiskey sours — with creative variations.
The Boulevardier, for example, is an updated version of a 100-year-old recipe that combines chocolate milk-washed bourbon, espresso-infused Campari, and a bitter vermouth for a surprising and smooth drink that is neither bitter nor sweet. Hidden toward the back of the menu are a handful of drinks that have stuck thanks to their popularity or uniqueness; one of these is called“One of Everything,” which has a lingering smoky flavor.
“It’s like drinking a cigar box in the tropics,” said Keil. “That’s about as evocative as I think you can get.”
To complement the sophisticated flavors put forward in the sherry-centric cocktails is a small menu of Spanish-inspired tapas and Italian-inspired pastas — rich, creamy, salty flavors pair brilliantly with sherry, Keil said.
Skeptics of the idea of sherry, whether on its own or in cocktails, need only come in once to have a complete change of heart.
Try the risotto, which is perfection at first bite, blending wild mushrooms, crispy sage, dried apple, and hazelnuts in a creamy but delicate dish. Pair it with the suggested cocktail, the Beton, and the experience is only elevated, the Manzanilla sherry and fall tonic adding a refreshing and crisp note to the already-delicious food.
By pairing entrée dishes with a suggested cocktail (or sherry), en Rama guarantees complementary flavors and offers an easy out for those who can feel paralyzed by an unfamiliar menu.
If nothing on the menu seems like a diner’s cup of tea, he can also ask for a custom drink, putting forward likes and dislikes and letting the experts take care of the rest. This is one example of how en Rama personalizes a guest’s dining experience.
“We spend a lot of time talking about hospitality, more time than we spend talking about wine or food,” said Keil of his team, some of whom have been with him through his multiple restaurant endeavors. “If we can introduce people to something new and guide and facilitate a positive experience, that’s what we want to focus on. It’s about getting people to trust us and then not violating that trust.”
One meal at en Rama is likely enough to build a bond of trust with Keil and his small team of talented and passionate culinary creatives. And that’s how regulars are born.