Thursday, July 19, 2012
Washington, DC 20036
So, the next stop in my work week of dinners is Boqueria. It was more of an unofficial get-together with work folks than a more formal event but nonetheless, all that we had going on at work allowed me to have dinner in the city at this tapas transplant from the big apple. I chose it precisely because it was a pretty established tapas place from my favorite restaurant town. I guess it holds up with my theme of eating from today (first Shake Shack and now this). It's also in the Golden Triangle. Yeah. I just laughed. Again. Oh, and this being a work dinner, photos are going to be scarce again.
Boqueria is on the bookend of establishments along M street that have probably become pretty "iconic" to the DC night life. If anything, it may be the most utilitarian row of bars and restaurants in DC. From Ozio to the Sign of the Whale to ahem...Camelot, the street has something for everyone or something for someone who may want variety all in one night without having to move much. The restaurant is right above the Chipotle on the end and I'm pretty sure my co-workers thought that's where I planned for dinner. The entry stairs lead up to a little balcony of a pretty impressive outdoor seating area (way too hot on this day to eat outside) and the entryway has a window into the bar/prep area so you get to see food being prepared as you walk in.
The vibe of the restaurant is pretty modern with wood planks on the walls and warm hues everywhere. We got there at the tail end of happy hour so it was thinning out just a little bit and they sat us at the window overlooking M street so we could see the groups of gentlemen herding to Camelot. One of my co-workers had a food allergy and the other had never had tapas so it was up to me to choose carefully. We had to avoid meat of any kind and I didn't want to choose something that was too overboard. So, I decided to get six dishes (see below!) that felt like a good introduction to tapas. But first, we started with their ginkas or was it gingkas or something like that. It was gin, lemon and lime and dangerously tasted like it was only lemonade. Nevertheless, on a 100 degree day, it was welcome relief.
The first plate that came out was the Queso Montealva which was slices of goat's milk cheese with some olives, raisin bread, golden raisins, quince jam and some grapes. The whole plate was a nice round of saltiness (the olives) to sweet (grapes, raisins, bread and quince) to a nice deep smokiness from the cheese. The highlight to me was piling the quince jam on top of the cheese and melding those flavors together and then eating some golden raisins after an olive. The nice jumble of flavors you could create was a nice starter for the night.
Next up was the Tartar de Cangrejo which was some big chunks of Maryland blue crab mixed with avocado and a mustard vinaigrette. This was served with an opal basil (yeah, me neither) sorbet. The tartar was already served cold and I thought it peculiar to add the sorbet on top. The crab and avocado together was a nice sweet combination but the addition of the sorbet gave the dish another dimension with the little bit of tang from the basil and the crunchy cool of the sorbet gave it some textural depth.
We got the Almejas Salteadas next which was simple preparation of manila clams with garlic and minced parsley. It was served in a cast iron pan which I'm assuming was the same place it was cooked. The clams came out cooked perfectly sweet and flavorful. However, the star of the dish was the broth of garlic, clam juice, and parsley. It was such a nice weave of rich, pointed flavors that we had to order more bread to sop it all up.
They brought out the Saleado de Setas and pato con Zarzamoras together as sort of our entree. These were, respectively, sauteed mushrooms with manchego cheese and thyme; and duck breast with crispy onion stips, olive oil potato puree, fresh blackberries and a blackberry-cava reduction. The mushrooms fell flat a bit on flavor as they seemed under-seasoned and may not have been sauteed enough. The mildness of the manchego cheese didn't help their case either.
The duck more than made up for the disappointing mushrooms. The slices of breast were cooked just right to medium rare with a good crisp to the skin. This texture was further enhanced by the crispy onions and the puree served as a bed of soft potato goodness. The savoriness of those ingredients were nicely balanced by the tartness of the fresh blackberries and the accompanying reduction.
Our last "entree" item was the Gambas Al Ajilo whch was just shrimp with garlic and pepper sauteed in olive oil. It was a nice, simple presentation with sweet well-made shrimp. It's an easy, flavorful dish that didn't set the world on fire but was filling and a good way to end a good run of dishes.
For dessert, we shared their Melocoton y Crema. It's a play on peaches and cream with some fresh local peaches, crema catalana, dulce de leche, almond crumble and yogurt ice cream. To me, the cream was a little more dense and less sweet than usually found in this type of dessert. The crumble provided a great crunch and the peaches were roasted down to provide a little less of an edge. The ice cream was a nice touch to give a hint of coolness but wasn't necessarily needed.
Boqueria definitely brings a reputation as one of the better tapas places from NYC. I'm always wary of places expanding and maybe not translating their food when they open locations in DC. It's pretty clear that's not the case here. The space has a warm, comforting atmosphere with an air of contemporary hipness everywhere. The food comes out looking like great conversation starters (which is what you want when sharing) and tastes even better. I enjoyed being able to introduce Boqueria to some friends and I'll enjoy it even more when we keep coming back.