I looked, & it turns out The 9th Door is an anagram for Oh, Hott Dinner! It’s not quite as accurate as it is resonant, though.

It’s not quite accurate first & foremost in a literal sense. A, grazing on tapas isn’t de jure the same as eating dinner, even if it turns out that way de facto. In Spain, of course, tapas are essentially happy hour snacks; it’s just that happy hour starts later & lasts longer than it does in the U.S., as does dinner afterward. (I remember reading somewhere maybe a decade ago that as their nation moved increasingly toward the 9-to-5 workday while their nightlifestyle held steady, Spaniards were becoming a chronically sleep-deprived people. Wouldn’t it be a trip if the whole nation started a supersuave Spanish-style fight club?) B, tapas are as frequently served cold as, if not more often than, they are hot.

It’s also not quite accurate in a figurative sense—at least not in my book, where what’s hott & sexy is what’s quiet & full of private corners for lingering in. I’ve never been here when it wasn’t cramped to the point of SRO & the house music wasn’t pounding.

As for the quality of the food, it runs anywhere from hot to lukewarm—some things are great, others just so-so. I can’t help but suspect The 9th Door’s enormous popularity is to some extent by default, a reflection of its lack of local competition in serving even close to the real thing. (Which, it should be noted, may not be the case much longer; Westword’s Jason Sheehan reported just this week on the soon-to-open tapas bar Ondo’s.)

Take the tostas truchas & the tuna-stuffed fried olives, neither of which lived up to their appetizing promise.

9thDoortrout 9thDoorolives

Without enough of the advertised horseradish, the smoked-trout spread was fairly one-note in its fishiness; the olives, for their part, clearly came from a jar in the supermarket aisle, thereby defeating their own especially evocative-of-groves-by-the-sea purpose.

Grainy polenta was a disappointment, too, all the more stark in contrast to the fatty excellence of the lamb & vibrant “mole verde,” basically pesto, it accompanied.

9thDoorlamb

But the pan-seared scallops—served as a tapa fria, believe it or not, with what I remember a sort of tomato-pancetta relish & sauteed greens—were a delightful surprise, full of nooks & crannies of varying texture & flavor to discover.

9thDoorscallops

And the fat goat-cheese-&-almond-stuffed dates were as delectable as they didn’t look.

9thDoordates

While lending them the veneer of surgical refuse, the skin of serrano ham beat even the hard-to-beat, more typical cummerbund of bacon stuffed dates wear, at once pungent & delicately crackly.

Paired with a few smart glasses of wine, above all the plenty peppery Errazuriz carménère (a long-lost grape of Bordeaux turned Chilean expat that’s quickly becoming a favorite varietal of mine), it all made for a very nice meal—or, as the anagram would have it, an Icy Meal Never. That, I’d say, is a little more accurate than the one we started with.