Photos By Nicholas Karlin, Words By Norm Quarrinton
Brothers Alvaro and Alonso Roche, owners of Fairmont Avenue’s Bold Bite, have expanded their empire and gifted Bethesda with a new tapas restaurant in the process. TapaBar occupies the corner of Fairmont and Woodmont avenues, meaning that the Brothers Roche don’t have to travel very far when moving from one establishment to the other.
Upon entering, we were greeted by Alvaro (who handles the front of house proceedings, while Alonso handles Chef duties), who enthusiastically guided us through the restaurant’s diverse gin and tonic selection which features four Spanish-influenced variations on the traditional gin and tonic. We settled on the lemony El Retiro, and the spicy El Chueca (aptly named after Madrid’s red-light district). Both drinks were generously served in giant wine glasses–as is the custom in Madrid–and easy satisfied our boozy pallets. They’re also unique enough to be enjoyed by anyone of drinking age–even those who usually shy away from gin-based beverages. (Full disclosure: I’m not a big gin fan, and I hate tonic, but I adored these drinks).
We went straight for the good stuff, and began with a couple of mondatitos (bread based appetizers–a staple in Spanish cuisine). The salmon Curado en Casa–house cured salmon on crunchy-soft bread topped with fennel salad and radishes–was a pleasant introductory appetizer, a good portion for two people and the quail egg-topped tartare was as tasty as it was satisfying. Mondatitos are great–like an aesthetically pleasing bread basket, but with more protein to prepare your stomachs for the tapas dishes to come.
But before tucking into the tapas, we decided to complete the g&t collection, and ordered the remaining two. This may have been slightly ambitious, but we eventually conquered the behemoths, like thirst conquering conquistadors.
All that remained were our tapas dishes, and we were presented with a generous variety of items. Pancetta De Cerdo is a juicy, tender white-wine braised pork belly that’s served with a sweet and zesty piquillo sauce.
The pulpo (octopus) was smoked and elegantly presented with small, fragrant cauliflower cubes, and a smooth piquillo purée–seafood fans would be foolish to ignore this one.
Alongside the surprisingly filling pulpo, were the delectable meatballs served with a creamy manchengo garnish.
We rounded off our tapas adventure with the Huevos Rotos Con Chistorra, which is nowhere near as fancy as it sounds, but is easily one of the most pleasurably congenial food items I’ve ever eaten. It’s essentially a bowl of French fries with chistorra sausage, topped off with a runny egg. The idea is as simple as it is brilliant: cut into the egg and allow the fries to soak up that gooey, yolky goodness. It’s messy, funny looking, but thoroughly satisfying–if the menu was the Spanish national soccer team, this item would be Diego Costa.
With plenty of personal touches and cool twists on traditional dishes TapaBar sets itself apart from other tapas restaurants in the area, and is a more-than-welcome addition to Bethesda’s ever-burgeoning restaurant scene.