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Photos By Franz Mahr, Words By Logan Hollers

What’s that? You’ve never heard of Taberna del Alabardero? Don’t feel bad – I hadn’t either. I mean, it’s only been around since 1974, won a few RAMMY’s for Outstanding Wine Program, and snagged a Spanish chef nominated as DC’s Rising Culinary Star. Oh yeah – Esquire named Alabardero “the best Spanish restaurant outside of Spain.” No big.

Despite this widespread love, Alabardero has flown under the radar in the D.C. food scene. Or maybe I’m just out of the loop. Regardless, Alabardero is celebrating its 25th anniversary with some seriously cool events.

First, BYT attended a unique “Evolution of Tradition” tasting series, featuring 16 tapas dishes inspired by Chef Javier Romero’s native Spain.

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Running the gamut from land to sea, each dish represented a unique part of the Chef’s background. Highlights included a tomato-rubbed, thick-cut bread with a thin slice of Serrano ham, salty and fat-slicked; a marinated, carpaccio-style pork loin with valdeon blue cheese and crisped wafers; and a grilled asparagus with mushrooms and a truffle vinaigrette.

There were more substantial tapas to be had, as well. Some of the best: baby squid in its own ink, a striking black presentation with a great mouthfeel; laquered veal (so goddamn tender), braised in Pedro Ximenez and served with ratatouille and a fried egg.

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Octopus, one of the chef’s favorite ingredients, is a gorgeous dish. Slowly braised with a bit red wine (helps with the tenderization), the arms are sliced thin, layered over Idaho potatoes, and dusted with Spanish paprika.

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Even simple preparations shone; a plate of roasted maitake, shiitake, and oyster mushrooms, loaded with umami, was offset by garlic scallions and a bright aioli. So simple. So good. Croquettes were a knockout – crispy nuggets filled with béchamel and Iberian ham. Ridiculous. Burrata cheese, creamy and salty, with sliced anchovies adding some brine and salinity.

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Sweets are just as good – go with the interesting choice: fried milk with blood orange and shaved carrots. The fried milk is awesome, texturally similar to soft tofu, and the accompanying mandarin sorbet is super bright and refreshing.

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All these and more are available on the new tapas menu, debuting April 4.

Alabardero is more than just tapas. The chef has a number of specials in the works. First up is Lobster Weekend. March 27-29 and April 24-26, Alabardero is featuring a special menu designed to highlight fresh Maine lobster. We tried two of the new dishes. The first, a chilled lobster salad, offered alternating slices of lobster and sea scallop over grilled peppers. Firm and buttery, the lobster shone, while the scallops and dollops of caviar added a touch of luxury. The second, lobster pasta, combined huge chunks of steamed lobster with elbow macaroni, goat cheese, razor clams, mussels, and shrimp. Smells like the ocean – a great riff on mac and cheese…but baller.

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Alabardero prides itself on its paella. As well it should, as the three were sampled were fantastic. Tough to choose when options include cod, chickpea, and spinach; octopus with pepper confit and potato; and, best of the bunch, pork cheek with pardon peppers. The pork cheek is more pork candy, sweet as can be, and the perfectly al dente rice soaks up a ton of flavor from the pork.

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Taberna del Alabardero may not be one of the first places people think of when discussing dining in D.C. But it should be. Get here before word gets out.

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