Our critic shares the reasons some spots didn't make it into his Dining Guide
By Tom Sietsema
Sunday, Oct. 23, 2011
The heavy wooden door opens to reveal a Logan Circle space that looks as if it has been around for ages. The kitchen sends sensual tastes of España — jamon-wrapped figs, chilled gazpacho and shrimp punched up with garlic and lemon — to your massive table. Whenever I drop by Estadio, I make room for one of the petite sandwiches known as bocadillos, typically blood sausage with a smear of sharp Cabrales, or blocks of pork belly sharing a hard roll with shredded peppers. Not to be missed from the open kitchen in back: tortilla Española, a round cake of potato and egg set off with concentric rings of aioli and kicky red pepper strips; and crisp halibut, centered on romesco sauce that’s strewn with chickpeas and sunflower seeds. Weighty chandeliers, a movable red-leather wall and a treasure-trove of (white and red) Rioja make Estadio the most alluring place to graze on Spanish savories but, ultimately, not the best: The well-seasoned shrimp are also cooked to rubber, and if you order a hamburger at brunch, expect to be disappointed by a dry patty. Too much of what was over-the-top good a year ago now tastes warmed-over. Estadio means “stadium.” There are no hooligans, but don’t expect any serenity with your sangria.
When Estadio opened in Logan Circle last summer, crowds were instantly smitten. Tables were tough to secure, as was real estate at the bar. People came for the Spanish food and drink, and stayed for the joy of having staked a spot in this elegant-yet-hip, 110-seat restaurant.
Nearly one year later, owner Mark Kuller continues to pack the house with diners hungry for chef Haidar Karoum's skillful cooking. It's still hard to land a perch at prime dinnertime. (Kuller also owns Proof downtown, where Karoum is also head chef.)
Will the new weekday lunch hours, which debuted earlier this month, summon similar devotion? The menu is largely the same as at dinner, so expect small plates of seafood, cured meats, cheeses, salads, vegetables, eggs and more.
What has our attention is the list of seven, sometimes eight, sandwiches called bocadillos. They're offered only at the bar or for takeout. General Manager Justin Guthrie explains the thought process behind the new concept: "We already have great ingredients in-house, so putting sandwiches on the lunch menu was a no-brainer."
Each bocadillo comes on a six-inch, house-baked ciabatta roll, costs $10 and includes a side salad. Choose mixed greens and radish slices dressed with sherry vinaigrette, or better: a delightful toss of lentils, diced carrot, apple and onion. Call ahead to order if you're in a hurry.
Even after its 15-minute car ride, we swooned over the lamb meatball bocadillo, its rich tomato sauce brightened by mint and dollops of melted goat cheese. It's the most popular sandwich right now, says Guthrie. Coming in second is the sardine bocadillo, piled with meaty pieces of fish and garnished with shaved Vidalia onion and butter from Path Valley Farm in Pennsylvania.
Another combination - lomo, membrillo (quince paste), Valdeon (a Spanish blue cheese) and crushed almonds - conjures the flavors of a charcuterie plate. Jamon serrano with tomato, manchego cheese and arugula would have been fantastic had the bread been crisped.
On the other hand, the bun for our Spanish Hero was toasted, a nice textural counterpoint to its filling of spicy meats, manchego and juicy, sweet hot peppers. Think Italian sub by way of Seville.
Guthrie notes that the bocadillos will change according to what's in season, and he has a hunch that a fan base is developing. "The number of sandwiches sold every day is growing," he says. Sounds like love to us.
--Catherine Zuckerman (Good to Go, Wednesday, May 25, 2011)