For the June issue of Seattle Magazine I reviewed La Bodega, which is easily one of my favorite write-ups I’ve done since taking over the role of Food and Dining Editor back in February. Professionally, the story behind La Bodega is one of passion, which always makes for a good read. Personally, I’ve known owner Manu Alfau since he worked at Tavolata way back when. We became quick friends because I loved his food, which is why when he left to go work at Ethan Stowell's other restuarant, Anchovies & Olives, it became my new favorite place. Now, he’s got his own dream to fulfill at his tiny Cuban sandwich nook in Pioneer Square—a dream he worked his ass off to fulfill.
When I sat down with Manu to talk about this magazine piece, we chatted at length—not all of it got published. Here's what ended up on the cutting room floor.
Tell me about the empanadas that sell out every. single. day.
They’re hard work! It’s a big root that you have to peel, quarter, and then break down into smaller pieces and then grind in a food processor. Then, the starch gets squeezed out. Once that’s done, it’s cooked in a non-stick pan, gets cooled to room temperature, and then kneaded with water and spices. That’s the traditional preparation.
What do you think this place means to Pioneer Square?
I think this is the start of the full-on bettering of Pioneer Square, the beginning of a neighborhood that should have been inhabited years ago. This space...I’ve been told by the Pioneer Square Alliance that they applaud me for actually taking it on. They make it sound like it was this big burden that nobody wanted to take on, this little place. Lots of drug use and people doing whatever else right in front. It laid vacant for about three years. But this is Bodega. It calls Bodega. It feels like Bodega in here. The second I saw it I knew it was the spot. You feel like you’re in a different country. It’s super humid. That’s the quirky thing about it — there’s not much ventilation, all the walls are brick. When it’s cold outside, condensation comes pouring down. I try to keep it warm, definitely. When we’re in the back cooking, it steams up the windows and people are surprised when they come in because you can only see the dining room from the outside. There’s more to it.