Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Camacho's Wedding Feast

Tapas seem to be everywhere these days, and rightly so. Small servings meant to accompany beer of wine, these appetizers can make a meal in and of themselves and are a great way to explore tastes, textures and preparations without committing to a single entrée. Be it a simple tapa of cheese on bread or one featuring vegetables and grilled meats, the secret to great tapas -traditional or modern, purely Spanish or fusion- lies in the ingredients used. This commitment to traditional quality ingredients, even in the face of a skyrocketing Euro, truly sets certain restaurants apart. Judging by their consistently good tapas and hordes of enthusiastic patrons, (even during the middle of the week), Bodega is leading the pack in traditional offerings.

Bodega opened a few months ago on M street, taking over the space formerly occupied by Manhattan Grill. Completely redone in blacks and reds with just a hint of the Arabic influence of Southern Spain, you'll feel as if you walked into Taberna del Alabardero's younger, hipper sibling (though the skulls are a bit too Merc Bar for my taste). Bodega has a full-service bar and a terrace in the back, and the minimal lighting is reminiscent of both a lounge and the wine cellars that give it its name.

The menu is ordered into tablas (platters, mostly cheese and cold cuts, including Serrano Ham), cold tapas, hot tapas, soups, salads, paellas, and for those with less culinary commitment issues, entrées. I have stayed squarely in the tapas section during my initial visits but have given more than sweeping glances at tables that were enjoying paella. Aside from wines by the bottle and the glass, Bodega has red and white sangria (made with Cava, Spanish sparkling white wine). Since tapas are first and foremost bar food, it's a good idea to pair them with wine or beer.

As a rule of thumb, I order 5 or 6 tapas for 2 people, and mix cold and hot tapas. This allows the kitchen to prepare your hot tapas while the cold ones satiate your hunger. The tables at Bodega are small, and the server kept bringing our plates two at a time (at one point we did have to colonize the next table over, as we did not want to relinquish the extra bread). It is also a good idea to leave room for dessert.

My favorite cold tapas are the Boquerones, (cured white anchovies in olive oil and lemon that melt in your mouth); Pan con Tomate y Queso Manchego (a Catalunean staple consisting of bread with a touch of tomato and a slice of Manchego, an aged semi-firm sheep's milk cheese); and the house olives, a blend of colossal, manzanilla and black olives. For hot tapas, I stick to classics: Croquetas de Pollo (golden chicken croquettes filled with chicken and white sauce); Spanish Tortilla (an egg and potato omelet); Calamares Fritos (fried Calamari with Alioli, a garlic and oil sauce); and the Butifarra Catalana (a Catalonian Sausage with Sautees Kidney Beans). The latter almost provoked an incident when Tapas etiquette was breached and T. scooped all the remaining beans. As with everything else in life, beware whom you share your plates with, or at least make sure you're more skilled in fork to fork combat. I've had two outstanding desserts at Bodega: the Crema Catalana (a Catalunean custard, similar but not identical to creme bruleé) and the Bodega ice cream. A truly adult ice cream sundae, where vanilla ice cream is topped by mission figs, port and sherry.

If you get there without your party, avoid the hostess - it should be the food, not the subtle rudeness, that transports you to Iberian Peninsula - and sit yourself at the bar while you wait, the bartender will take care of you.

Bodega Spanish Tapas & Lounge
3116 M St. NW, Washington, DC, 20007
(202) 333-4733
Bodega Spanish Tapas & Lounge on Urbanspoon

No comments: