Barcelona Wine Bar: Pulpo Gallega

BWB Pulpo Gallego

A meal this weekend may have tipped the balance to the amorous side of my love/hate relationship with Barcelona Wine Bar. Trying to score a seat at this place had all but transported me back to those tough high school days of desperately trying to snag an invite to the after prom party. Hence, the hate.

Barcelona Wine Bar

It took FOUR tries (spread out over many months) to accomplish the impossible:  An actual table. With seats. With my name on it. It wasn’t on the patio or anything though; we’re not THAT cool.

What made me forgive being turned down so many times was the food. The tapas weren’t half bad, and were a fraction of the cost of Estadio’s renditions. The Best Thing on the Menu tapas title goes to: Pulpo Gallego with octopus, chorizo, fingerling potatoes and pimenton. There’s nothing worse than a rubbery cephalopod in your mouth. BWB’s 8-legger is cooked to perfection.

Traditionally this simple Galician dish is comprised of boiled octopus, potatoes, olive oil and paprika. Fortunately, BWB ups the ante with ground chorizo, adding heat and nuttiness. Slippery onions lend sweetness, too. Click here for more photos from the meal.

BWB Grilled Spring Onions

For those keeping score, here’s how BWB stacks up compared to its competition on certain dishes, in our humble tapas opinion (an opinion garnered from a 7-month study abroad experience in Spain that involved an ogre of a host mother who only cooked hot dogs).

  • Grilled Spring Onions: Estadio > BWB
  • Albóndigas: Boqueria > BWB
  • Croquetas: BWB > Estadio
  • Boquerones: Estadio > BWB
  • Charcuterie: BWB > Estadio & Boqueria

Disagree? Let us hear it in the comments section.

Boqueria: Albóndigas

albondigas meatballs
Boqueria came on the scene last year, giving Spanish tapas lovers a chance at an actual reservation (see Estadio entry). Their outdoor seating and sangria are a perfect combination for DC diners wanting to take in the first days of spring, which have turned out to be more like summer.

For a meaty tapa try The Best Thing on the Menu: Albóndigas. These lamb meatballs come in tomato sauce dotted with sheep’s milk cheese and fresh herbs. While delicious, these meatballs are also confusing. Albóndigas are traditionally Mexican and usually come in soup form. However, they are being served at a Spanish restaurant and they taste Italian. Who cares, the lamb gives them a stronger, earthier flavor than beef or pork ever could and you’ll find yourself ordering bread just to dip in the sauce until the last drop is gone.

Your check can add up on you pretty fast, especially if you order 4-5 tapas for a party of two, or if you go for one of their big-ticket items like paella. The good news is that it’s worth it.

A great way to enjoy Boqueria (which also has locations in New York and Hong Kong) is at lunch. A departure from tapas takes you to a creative salad and sandwich selection. All sandwiches, like the Bocata de Pollo (Grilled chicken, hazelnut romesco, walnut raisin bread) run for under $15 and come with a side salad and patatas bravas.

Albóndigas not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.

Zaytinya: Crispy Brussels Afelia

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Adventures in mezze at DC food magician José Andrés’ Zaytinya unveiled yet another vegetarian-friendly Best Thing on the Menu (BTM): Crispy Brussels Afelia. We promise BTM loves meat, especially rare meat. But, these seductive sprouts can convert even the staunchest of sprout haters, thus landing it as Zaytinya’s BTM.

The crispy, creamy, tart and tangy brussels sprouts can be found in the Hortariki (خضراوات) section of the menu, also known as Vegetable Mezze. They’re described as “brussels sprouts with coriander seed, barberries and garlic yogurt.” Barberries are most commonly used in Iranian cooking (where they are known as zereshk) and have been used medicinally for over 2,500 years, especially when related to the cardiovascular and neural systems.

Now back to the sprouts. Be sure to save some of Zaytinya’s warm, fluffy oblong-shaped pitas that arrive at the start of the meal to scrape up the garlic yogurt that lines the dish, or let loose and make sprouty sandwiches.

Zaytinya was one of the original restaurants to play into the hearts (and mouths) of small-plate-loving, variety-craving, dish-sharing Washingtonians.  A trip to the innovative Turkish, Greek and Lebanese tapas temple is not to be missed. Nor is the BTM!

Crispy Brussels Afelia not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.

Estadio: Grilled Scallions

Grilled Scallions, Romesco & Idiazabal

Estadio, a spanish tapas eatery famous for its creative slushitos (boozy slurpees) and authentic fare, is located in Logan Circle. Some have a love/hate relationship with the joint because while it is the best tapas restaurant in DC, bar none, their reservations are limited. Unless you are willing to eat pre-theatre early, you’re not getting a reservation. At least according to try after try on OpenTable.

If you are lucky enough to get a seat at your own table, the communal table or at the bar, you shouldn’t leave before you get the Best Thing on the Menu (BTM): Grilled Scallions, Romesco & Idiazabal.

These grilled to perfection leeks are located in the “Verduras” section of the menu and appear unassuming. Perhaps the “maybe we should order something green” item. However, they are not to be missed. In one of the better episodes of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, Anthony travels to Spain and participates in Catalan’s Calçotada – a festival celebrating the harvest of calçots, known to us as scallions or leeks.

In Spain, the calçots are grilled over a flaming barbecue wrapped in newspaper, rendering them smoky and tender.  Festival goers peel away the really burnt layers, revealing tender bulbs to be dipped in Romesco sauce. Those who have seen the episode may recall him washing down the onions with copious amounts of red wine poured directly from a Porron wine pitcher.

Estadio gets so close to recreating the Calçotada all year round with the BTM. Their romesco sauce is smoky and sweet and you won’t even leave with onion breath.

Just for fun, here’s a recent article describing how to recreate Calçotada in your own backyard (even though most of us in DC don’t have a yard). We can dream.

Grilled Scallions not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.