The Full Flavors of Sabores
By Eve Zibart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, Jan. 18, 2008
At first glance: Sabores resembles a double-wide add-on solarium. The room is a long rectangle with a marble-topped bar and a row of banquettes along the rear wall. Another row of white marble bistro tables backs up to roll-up glass doors on the street side. Pastel "mood lighting" around the ceiling constantly changes the color of the off-white walls and the bottle-bottom portholes in the bar. The wine bins are topped with decorative vases, while dark abstract paintings hang over the banquettes. Music shifts pleasantly from Brazilian dance-pop to samba to jazz to salsa.
On the menu: Sabores ("flavors" in Spanish) is a solid and occasionally surprising tapas place, described as "nuevo Latino." However, it has a fairly traditional menu, with a couple dozen small plates and soups and a half-dozen sweets. Only about five months old, it is already on its second chef, local hotel and restaurant veteran Francisco Vivar. A few "large hot plates," including the ropa vieja ("old clothes"), a slow-cooked stew with shredded beef, are $15 or less.
At your service: The wait staff is friendly and attentive to empty water glasses, used flatware and finished bread baskets. (The warm bread includes crusty white with herbed olive oil or rolls with chili oil.) The platters are all white, but in eye-catching shapes, such as the slat-cut soup bowls.
On the table: At $8, the chupa de cangrejo y camaron -- shrimp and crab soup with delicate sauteed sweet peppers, poached egg and a touch of cream -- is delicious. For $10, the four seared scallops with a silky potato puree and caper-dotted lemon sauce is equally good. Black bean soup is familiar but substantial, with a swirl of avocado as well as sour cream. Mushroom quesadillas are a generous half-moon with a whiff of truffle oil in the stuffing and a dollop of fresh guacamole on top. Empanadas are very flaky; the vegetarian version is like a southern squash casserole with two crusts. The Brazilian-style chicken pasteles are in similar pinch-edged pastry but are deep-fried and well-drained. Lamb taquitos -- two soft corn tortillas filled with shredded lamb -- are more substantial than the name suggests, though the salsa verde was a bit scant.
What to avoid: Don't sit with your back to the glass doors on a cold night. Though there's no active draft, the cold travels by osmosis. (The chill affects a few of the dishes, although the kitchen tries to warm the plates.) The quail has an odd, slightly mushy, tenderized texture, and at $12 for a single bird, even with a fluting of whipped potatoes, it is not one of the menu's better values. Patatas bravas are comfy but could be crisper, and the sauce needs more bite.
Wet your whistle: Sabores has only a few beers (try Presidente from Santo Domingo); a pleasant wine list with several South American and Spanish varietals; and good hand-muddled caipirinhas and mojitos. The sangria is also popular.