Bringing a successful New York City restaurant down to Washington is not always embraced or met with approval. Many believe it can undermine the DC food scene and call into question our ability to produce our own stellar and original dining establishments. There is a reason why we are so proud of our hometown heroes and restaurateurs such as José Andrés, Robert Wiedmaier, and Ashok Bajaj (to name a few): they have created brands associated with Washington, DC that are respected around the world and put us on the map as a culinary destination. Boqueria has been a successful Spanish tapas restaurant in New York City since 2006 with the original location in the Flatiron district and the second outpost in Soho. Just last week Boqueria opened its newest location on the corner of 19th and M Streets NW in the old Penang location just south of Dupont Circle. Having heard great things over the years about the Boqueria in NYC I was excited to give it a try, but also hesitant as to whether it would provide authentic cuisine that was reminiscent of my time spent in Spain. Sure enough, the food was excellent, and I found myself thinking that this new addition to our dining scene from a NYC based "chain" is actually damn good and somewhere I will plan to visit often.
The restaurant has a large bar area that seats over 25 people and provides a great happy hour menu including Sangria and a few small tapas at very reasonable prices. Boqueria encourages sharing or "family-style" dining so our group ordered multiple dishes for the table so we could get a sampling of some of their best bites. We relied heavily on our very knowledgeable waitress who instructed us to order 2-3 plates per person and made some excellent recommendations. We started with a bottle of the 2010 Albariño which was crisp and perfect for the March spring evening. A cheese plate that included Manchego, Mahón, and Monte Enebro was a great opening act for the meal which was served with pan con tomate, raisin bread, and some olives and other accoutrements.
From there the dishes started to filter in as they were ready and there were a few major standouts. We all swooned over the bacon wrapped dates stuffed with almonds and blue cheese. They were sweet and savory at the same time, and they had a dessert-like quality without being too much. The cold tortilla española was authentic and reminded me of the version you get while in Barcelona. The creamy croquettes with mushrooms and serrano ham melted in your mouth and were so smooth and delicious, and we also loved the flavor of the seared lamb skewers which had a kick to them as a result of the salsa verde. The razor clams and oysters were both specials that impressed all of the diners at our table, and finally we were very surprised at how much we loved the vegetables we ordered including the asparagus, sauteed spinach, and wild mushrooms with manchego. They weren't just throwaway or obligatory sides-- these were "must orders" that really stood out and were packed with delicious flavor.
Boqueria has only been open for a week and a half so the restaurant was relatively empty when we dined there this week. Might have just been the fact that it was a Monday night, or might be that word has not totally gotten out just yet. Either way, it was a lovely experience with a great group of friends and food that exceeded expectations. As soon as the news travels about this great new Spanish tapas outpost in Dupont Circle I can assure you the tables will be booked up and the wait times will increase. It's a fun spot, and even though it might be a New York transplant, we should still embrace it as a great addition to our scene. The food is top notch, and after all, that's what counts.