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Thursday, March 3, 2011


Plaudits: Washingtonian 2011 #23, Washington City Paper's Young and Hungry's 2010 Top 50 Restaurants, Semifinalist - James Beard Award, Best New Restaurant
Neighborhood: Logan Circle, 14th Street

The Setup

Fresh off some drinks at Marvin, Official Friend of DCWD Talia and I were in search of munchies. As is becoming my usual path, she and I wandered up and down 14th St in search of food only to be stifled by long wait times (bye-bye Eatonville, Busboys, Birch and Barley). Deciding to just throw caution to the wind, we walked into Estadio to find only a 30 minute wait. Sensing this was the best we were gonna get (both that night, and at Estadio in general), we stuck it out.

The Vibe

Estadio is a Spanish restaurant much like Miami's Sra. Martinez is a Spanish restaurant: a tapas place with a decorative sense of self. Dark red walls are covered by iron lattice work, side-by-side with Moorish tiling and exposed brick. These walls, in combination with the iron chandeliers, the simple wooden high bar-tables, and the generally medieval-style wood furniture, give the restaurant the feel of an Alhambra meets Madrid world.

Well it would, but before the decidedly modern touches grafted onto it. Take for instance, the open kitchen in the back, the exposed black vents, or the central glass bar where charcuterie is cut, and small uncooked tapas are put together while old videos of 70s soccer games play on flatscreens overhead. Or the pictures of Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz which indicate the mens' and womens' rooms. Estadio very much revels in being the "it" restaurant of the moment, and it feels that way: an air of trendiness, a heavy buzz, a see-and-be-seen-and-try-what-you-have-to-try atmosphere that is best represented by the huge windows that surround the restaurant and allow just the right amount of people watching.

The Food

Talia managed to squeeze us a lone seat at the bar, which gave us just enough time to be talked into a nightcap of sangria. She ordered the red (cachaca, lime, mint), and so I went white (tequila, apple, rosemary). Maybe could have been a little stronger, but definitely was pleasantly surprised by how mild and drinkable the sangria was, despite the strong flavors that were used that very well could have overpowered things.

The first dish to arrive was a plate of wild mushroom croquetas served on a bed of arugala and roasted peppers. Just wonderful bites of creamy heaven. The light dressing on the arugala with the roasted peppers was a perfect complement, giving it a little tart and textural balance with the crisp of the croqueta crust and the lovely smooth insides.

Next came two montaditos (in this usage, small open-faced sandwiches). The first was the always classic roasted beets and whipped goat cheese. Topped with what seemed like chopped spinach, this was a great example of how even simple almost-banal combinations can be given new life with careful preparation and quality ingredients. The "whipness" (let's define this as the quality of being whipped) of the goat cheese added an airiness that played well with the crunch of the toast and the both-firm-and-soft beets.

The second was one that Talia had pointed out to me: foie gras mousse and smoked duck breast topped with caramelized onions. I'm starting to come to grips with my foie gras obsession: namely that I love it more in hot, seared, fatty preparations than the cold, moussed, creamy ones. Still, the duck breast was a nice addition, and this dish was like a punch in the face of savory. Considering the weather outside, it felt seasonal in a weird sort of way. Weirdly, the low point of the night. Which is saying something.

I wish I could say we planned it this well, but the last two dishes were the main proteins which provided a lovely tie onto the meal (I mean, in fairness, I'm sure it's just because they took longer to cook than the sandwiches, but hey it worked). The first was a sherry glazed black cod on chopped greens and something resembling garbanzo beans with a smoky romesco. Brilliantly tender, with a romesco sauce that was pleasant without being overpowering. A little piquant, a lot of texture to love, and flavor for days. Definitely a very close second for the best black cod ever.

The other dish was my eventual winner for the night (the star amongst a number of star dishes): slow roasted pork belly with chorizo, morcilla, and fabada beans. Where to start with this dish? Meat that just fell apart as you bit into it, and melted in your mouth. The perfect balance between fattiness and meatiness on the cut of pork belly. Wonderful complements with the two sausages and the beans. A pitch-perfect dish for the season, a hearty and warming dish without being heavy. I've had some amazing pork belly in the last year, but this is right up there with all of them.

For dessert, we played the elimination game and ended up with the almond cake with cinnamon ice cream and lemon glaze. Light, fluffy, but packing a good flavor, and the cinnamon ice cream was on point. A really good ending to a really good meal.

The Verdict

I often admit that my fairly arbitrary rankings are completely based on the company I'm with or the mood I'm in when I write it up. But for the most part, they're based on taste memories. Can I remember, even in abstract ways, what I was thinking and feeling when I took the first bite? (Yes, for the beets/goat cheese, the sangria, the pork belly). How did I rate things with a similar profile for which I have similarly strong memories? And how did it measure up/compare to those memories? (see: Cork, Zaytinya) And if I go back over my write up, where are the highs and the lows? And here it is: there just weren't any bad dishes on this trip. And I loved what I did eat. So there it is.

Food Rating: ***** (out of 5)
Date Rating: 3.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Bar Rating:
Hipster Hangout to Classy Crowd to Suits Scene
Energetic to Noisy
(out of 5) ($50-$75 for two)
: Head across the street to Studio Theatre. If you can wait on it till July, there's a presentation of a play called Pop! that looks real cool.

Estadio on Urbanspoon

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