Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Bodega Spanish Tapas & Lounge Food Review

Never underestimate the resolve of a food critic... especially one who loves Spanish cuisine. I managed to take what could should have been a three-hour feast, nestled in the corner of a chic, intimate, glorious restaurant; and turn it into a 60-minute pre-theatre race to Heaven. Heaven you say? You read correctly. I tend to lean towards the dramatic; but how else do you explain one of the best hours of my life (or at least the last couple of years?)

Where was I? Macau? Next to Jack, courtside at a Lakers' game? Vegas? No. Think local. Georgetown actually. Bodega Spanish Tapas & Lounge to be specific. Getting there wasn't easy (Washington Circle = traffic nightmare) but once I slipped through Bodega's curtain entrance, all my thoughts & troubles faded away. I announced my reservation, and was led to a cozy table past the bar, and across from the fire place. The ambiance here is intimate and relaxing (perfect for a special date night.) The ultimate escape.

House bread

My server came by and introduced herself. Emily was attractive (never hurts) kind and attentive. She knew Bodega's extensive menu backwards & forwards, and was more than happy to guide me through my adventure. Little did she know, I was about to devour 10 courses in an hour's time. Warning: It's easy to get carried away here. Each dish improves upon the next, and your mind can run away with you. Lord knows, mine did.

Pan con Tomate y Jamón Serrano

Dinner started with bread & olive oil. Warm and crunchy, the bread's to die for... but I had room for only one slice. Reluctant as I was, to turn away great bread - My first appetizer had the same, holding up a spread of fresh tomato with Jamón Serrano ham. Pan con Tomate y Jamón Serrano ($7.95) is the quintessential cold tapa, and the perfect way to start a meal.

Gambas al Ajillo

Going from cold to hot, my next tapa was a generous supply of shrimp sautéed in garlic and olive oil, with slivers of garlic and Piri-Piri (serious kick) peppers. Gambas al Ajillo ($9.95) arrived at my table sizzling (literally) and the smell... it invades the senses, but in a loving manner. Does anything beat the smell of good garlic? I devoured them all in the blink of an eye. At this time, I had finished two complete tapas by myself... So much for pacing myself.

Tortilla de Patata con Chorizo y Jamón Serrano

Next up, Tortilla de Patata con Chorizo y Jamón Serrano (a Spanish tortilla with Chorizo and potatoes, topped with Serrano ham for $7.95.) Talk about delicate. The flaky exterior holds together a few layers of potato with tiny chunks of chorizo sausage throughout.) The Serrano adds saltiness, and in four bites... poof, gone. If you're keeping score at home. Tapas 3 Peter 0. I have to start tasting, not finishing.

Patatas Bravas

Unfortunately, I chose one of my favorite dishes Patatas Bravas (fried potatoes covered in a spicy aioli, $6.95) to start "not-finishing." That didn't sit too well, as I went through three-quarters of my plate before forcing myself to stop. Tender potatoes were cooked perfectly, with just enough crispness to hold up to the sauce. The aioli was mild (I love spicy) but tasty. Another home run.

Dátiles con Tocino

When I received a plate of Dátiles con Tocino (bacon-wrapped dates, $7.95) I knew there was zero chance of sticking to my taste-only plan. The dates were syrupy sweet, and the bacon absolutely first rate. As perfect a combination, as you're likely to find on any menu, anywhere. Each one took two bites. Six dates, 12 bites total. Two minutes off the clock. Perhaps I should consider entering some food-eating contests: Coney Island, here I come.

Pimientos del Piquillo Rellenos de Costilla de Buey

Before I made plans for Brooklyn, I decided to try Bodega's tempting Pimientos del Piquillo Rellenos de Costilla de Buey ($8.95, photo at top.) Sounds like a mouthful, and it is. It's also the best thing on the menu, period. Piquillo Peppers (the best) with Braised Beef Short Ribs, served Au Jus. How do I describe it? Velvety. Silky. Divine. I almost ordered the peppers on their own (Pimientos del Piquillo a la Plancha) but at the last minute noticed the addition of Braised Beef, further down the menu. What a difference. Despite this most ambitious menu, I literally craved more. All that was missing was an accolade, since rectified. Meet the fifth inductee to DC Outlook's Dirty Dozen... the 12 best bites in DC.

Espinacas a la Catalana 

Just past the midway point of my dinner, I decided to change gears, and go green. Lucky for me, this meant Espinacas a la Catalana (sautéed spinach with apples, raisins and pine nuts, $8.95.) Now I know why Popeye loved spinach so much (and to think - all this time, I thought he was just trying to impress Olive Oyl.) The spinach is great on its own, but the addition of chewy raisins & crunchy apples adds two extra layers of flavor (and texture.) Even the fussiest of eaters can't find fault with this vegetarian option.

Sepia a la Plancha

I had a minute or two to take it easy before my final two entree-worthy courses arrived. Good thing too, as both dishes required a level of semi-reverence on my part. First up, Sepia a la Plancha (grilled cuttlefish, simply marinated in lemon, olive oil and sea salt, $9.95.) When I think of Spanish food, I think of clean, simple food... nothing too fancy. This plate is a perfect example: Let the fish do the talking, and talk it does (closer to sings, actually.) The fish is gorgeous to look at, loaded with natural flavor and crispy. It's the crispiness that sets this fish apart. You want to pick them up with your fingers, and pop them in your mouth. Five minutes later (I was finally starting to show some self-control) yet another plate was empty (not including a squeezed lemon.) Empty plate? So much for my aforementioned self-control. False alarm.

Codorniz Tufada con Salsa de Oporto

Executive Chef Ryan Fichter made quite a splash with my final tapa... his beautifully presented Codorniz Tufada con Salsa de Oporto (Quail stuffed with a Chicken and Truffle Mousseline, and dressed in pickled cabbage and a Port Wine Reduction Sauce, $12.95.) Definitely the night's prettiest plate, I felt a smidge of guilt in touching it; but that ended quickly (with the first bite.) I don't have quail often, but this dish guarantees I'll be combing the internet for recipes in the next few days. Emily said it was her favorite dish on the menu, and it comes in a close second for me. Crispy skin, scrumptious meat and colorful pickled cabbage... how do you top that?

Traditional Spanish Flan

With dessert normally, but by now... I was running on fumes. I'd consumed so much food, so fast; but curiosity won over sensibility, and I decided to round out one of the best meals of my life with something sweet (Traditional Spanish Flan, $8.95.) On any other night, I would have made short order of this light & airy flan topped and surrounded with fresh blackberries, blueberries, mint and strawberries (and cream!) I found room for half, reaffirming my belief that nothing beats fresh fruit with a touch of decadence.

Last night was no normal dinner, rather an experience. Looking back, nine tapas and a lavish dessert is beyond excessive (not to mention expensive.) When you add in the fact that I ate alone, it's almost sinful. Truth be told, I'd do it all over again (perhaps tomorrow, I think I'm still digesting.) There's still so much on the menu worth exploring - Shark Nuggets, Grilled Basque Chorizo, Roasted Beets with Goat Cheese, Traditional Lamb Stew... I could go on and on.

Aside from the food, Bodega is warm and inviting. There's zero pretension... just a room full of cool people, enjoying great food, wine and unrivaled hospitality. I've been to Spain once (Madrid) and I can't wait to go back. Now, I've been to Bodega once too... I'll let you figure out what the future holds for me, in that regard.