Two months after Jessica Kate-Martinez and Kendra Valentine met, the first woman asked the second: "If I ever own a restaurant, do you want to be my executive chef?"
At the time, they worked in the same Dallas restaurant, the now-closed Casa Rubia, then would go on to work at fine-dining restaurant FT33 together. They became best friends, "almost like sisters," they say.
It's now five years later, and Kate-Martinez did open that restaurant. Valentine, of course, is her top toque. But it gets better: They opened Tapas Castile in the exact restaurant space where they first worked together.
There are a lot of things about Castile that just feel like they click.
Rather than sell "small plates of expensive food," which is the reputation Kate-Martinez says tapas can get, the two have created a menu mostly made up of dishes that cost $6 to $12. The no-frill menus are printed on paper.
Kate-Martinez, who is Mexican-American and Spanish, is a self-described geek about Spanish food and wine. She's traveled to Spain many times, once with Valentine, to try to develop a vision for a tapas place that's inexpensive and casual, with food that's "totally craveable," she says.
Lunch or dinner might start with a meat and cheese board, with all of the meats and cheeses shipped from Spain.
"I feel like Spain has some of the best cheeses out there," Valentine says.
Kate-Martinez, a sommelier, is teaching her staff to "make parallels" between Spanish food and familiar American dishes, for anyone who needs help navigating the menu. Mahon, a semi-hard cheese, is "Spain's answer to cheddar," she says. A wine from Priorat county in Spain might resemble a Napa cab. Some of the dishes on the menu include roasted beets with mojo verde, fried eggplant drizzled in honey, and mushrooms served with a garlic-cream-sherry sauce.
For anyone who wants a larger plate (rather than sharing small ones, as is common at tapas restaurants) a special section of family-style dishes includes paella, pork chop or whole fish, all which feed up to four people. Kate-Martinez and Valentine could easily recite the food and wine menus by heart, and they've spent months fussing over them.
"When you're passionate, all the details matter," Kate-Martinez says. She's especially excited about the sherry wines, which are a popular aperitif in Spain that she thinks should be more familiar in Dallas.
They both seemed to be having a pinch-me moment as they sat in their brand-new restaurant, thinking about their dream five years ago to "someday" work together on a restaurant.
"We're on the other side of 'someday,'" Valentine says.