Pulpo: Spanish Tapas in Cleveland Park

Friday night, Pants and I were looking to dine out in her neighborhood, but did not have a plan of where to go.  We hit the strip of restaurants on Connecticut Avenue by the Uptown Theater and wandered into Pulpo because it looked cool (3407 Connecticut Ave NW).  We were drawn in by the industrial style, dark and modern interior, which made me feel like I was stepping out of the quiet, family friendly streets of Cleveland Park and into an ultra hip, highly urban European bar.

The place was popular, but the communal table in the back was empty, so we were seated right away (and joined later by some drunk and spirited Spaniards, who added to the authenticity of the experience).

Our server was very personable and knowledgeable about the menu.  I wasn’t sure what kind of wine I wanted, but he guided me to an outstanding Las Colines del Ebro Syrah/Garnache ($11).  This very smooth red, with hints of raspberries, paired well with everything I ate.  Our waiter informed me that Sundays and Wednesdays are half-price bottles of wine, so I may come back just for that.

We ordered an assortment of tapas from the menu.  Starting with the Pan con Tomate with Jamon Serrano ($9), Champiñones con Ajo ($6), and Espinacas con Citricos ($5).  Each dish came out separately, but I would have liked to have had them all together.  The Pan was perfectly grilled—crispy on the edges, but soft and fresh in the middle.  The tomatoes were delicious.  I thought the ham was too salty, but Pants really loved it.  On first bite, the spinach had a surprising and appreciated kick of lemon.  It was a strong flavor, though, which is one of the reasons I was disappointed that all the dishes arrived separately.  It needed to be paired with something else.  The mushrooms were very well cooked.  The taste of the roasted garlic is still lingering in my brain.

Next out was the Seafood Paella ($19).  I know this is a tapas restaurant, but what came out was not what I was expecting.  From my time in Spain, when I think about paella, I think of a large dish of rice and seafood that generally has leftovers and leaves you full.  What we got was the “mini me” version (it was a very artistic presentation, though).  The giant prawn was a bit overcooked and I thought the mussels tasted a little too fishy, but the scallops were amazing.  The black Bombay rice was perfectly moist, the grilled onions in the dish deliciously caramelized, and the sour cream sauce added a beautiful flavor contrast.

Then came the Colorado Lamb Chops ($19), resting atop pumpkin sage foam and wild mushrooms, and topped with crispy parsnips, with a very funky presentation (like an edible sculpture).  I could have eaten a plate of parsnips by themselves.  These were great.  The lamb was also nicely done, with a pink center.  The flavor paired well with the pumpkin and mushroom.

At this point in the meal, our friend Raul joined us for drink, so we decided to order dessert.  The options looked so delicious, it was hard to choose just two, but we went with the Banana Nutella Bread Pudding ($8) and the Carrot Cake with Orange Ginger Cream Cheese Frosting ($8).  Both were somewhat disappointing to eat (but pretty to look at).  None of us could taste any nutella in the bread pudding; not even a slight hint of hazelnut.  The carrot cake was too bready and a bit flavorless, and the cream cheese frosting lacking the richness and decadence one would hope to get in this dessert.

Overall, I liked this restaurant for the atmosphere and the presentation of the food.  It was a place to dine and experience (with dishes arriving one and a time, the idea is not to be in and out quickly).  The food was tasty, although a little overpriced.  However, my friend Raul pointed out that he doesn’t like tapas places because he leaves feeling like he spent too much and didn’t eat enough.  I guess that’s just the nature of tapas!

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