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January 2003: Andalucia of Rockville

Spanish cuisine doesn't usually sweep you off your feet the way French and Italian can. Its appeal is quieter, like a love that grows with time. Family-run Andalucia—Mom cooks, her college-age daughter helps out in the dining room—works its magic slowly. Tucked in the corner of a commercial plaza, it lacks curb appeal. (The flashier Bethesda branch closed last fall.) But fans seek it out. The low-key interior is spruced up with travel posters and hanging plants.

Simple pleasures abound. Find them in a ramekin of spicy sausage glistening with good Spanish olive oil waiting to be scooped up on a wedge of bread. Or in the velvety lobster-brandy sauce that envelops a special of red snapper. Or in a glass of the crisp, hay-colored table wine Monopole.

The menu is short, but there's enough comfort food from the Moorish south to soothe. Shrimp with garlic sauce. Grandmotherly soups of fish and vegetables. And several big plates, such as sole with shrimp, mushrooms, capers, and lemon sauce; duck with salty cured ham and green olives; and veal with mushrooms and sweet sherry. Spain's national one-pot dishes—paella, here with seafood, chicken, and sausage, and zarzuela, a seafood stew—will strike a chord, as will Rape Catalana, a gathering of monkfish, shrimp, and mussels with saffron, tomato, and brandy. Though the restaurant's not-too-sweet flan seems the obvious choice for dessert, orange bread pudding is more likely to garner wows.

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