First Bite: Preview of Estadio

By Tom Sietsema
Tuesday, July 27, 2010; 1:09 PM

Before a two-week tour of the country this past March, Haidar Karoum, the executive chef at the wine-themed Proof in Penn Quarter, had never set foot in Spain. But you would never know that by eating at his second job, Estadio, the dashing new Logan Circle hot spot devoted to bocadillos and pintxos.

Karoum pulls off a convincing Spanish accent with his squid a la plancha, briefly cooked over high heat in olive oil and dappled with a salsa verde bright with lemon. Glistening ribbons of red pepper and anchovies (regular and white) atop grilled bread can transport a diner to a bar in Madrid or San Sebastian as well.

Coins of warm blood sausage and crumbled cabrales cheese tucked inside a chewy white roll give patrons a chance to sample one of the restaurant's bocadillos, or small sandwiches (and also Estadio's skill with bread, which is baked in-house). Coming soon, promises Karoum: baby eels.

Easing the brutal heat now are blender drinks called "slushitos," the most intriguing of which blends quince paste, paprika, lemon juice, sherry and scotch with crushed ice.

"A lot of the food I grew up with was similar in style to what I experienced in Spain: olive oil, fresh tomatoes, tons of garlic," says Karoum, the son of a Lebanese father and Irish mother. What impressed the 36-year-old chef most after his dozens of research meals abroad with his boss, Mark Kuller, who also owns Proof, is the simple nature of the cooking in Spain. And the ubiquity of ham.

"You'd go to the bank, and there'd be jamon hanging from the rafters," jokes the chef.

To snare a dinner reservation at what has become one of the hottest tickets around, handsomely packaged in reclaimed timber and Spanish tile, you have to be a group of six or more, or else willing to graze at an hour no fashionable Spaniard would consider: Between 5 and 6 o'clock sounds more like lunch, after all.

1520 14th St. NW. 202-319-1404. Tapas, $3 to $14.

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