Corner Bistro made its mark in McLean in a tiny space -- seating just 22 -- but now, in a musical chairs of sorts, it has relocated to a larger space two doors down. That space had been occupied by Le Petit Mistral, Corner Bistro's sister restaurant. Now larger and known simply as Le Mistral, this restaurant has itself reopened a half-block down the street. And owner Joseph Alonso plans to turn Corner Bistro's old digs into a North African place.
But back to the Spanish restaurant with the French-sounding name.
Gone are Corner Bistro's too-cozy, elbow-to-elbow tables, the wine list on a chalkboard and the kitchen nearly spilling into the dining room. The new restaurant seats 52 at well-spaced tables and a long bar across the back. Large windows along the front overlook busy Old Dominion Boulevard and have window seats upholstered in a crisp orangey red and yellow check that echoes the colors of the Spanish flag. Large mirrors along both side walls make the room seem even more spacious than it is, and a brightly colored carpet (with French fleurs-de-lis) reinforces the festive feeling.
The new larger kitchen has allowed a larger menu with many more daily specials, and more luncheon choices. Manager Cris Flores, who, like chef Driss Zahidi, started out at Le Mistral, said the lunch and dinner menus will continue to expand. The wine list is limited mostly to Spanish wine, most costing about $30 a bottle, and there is a full range of specialty drinks, including a stiff margarita.
At dinner, most of the dishes are tapas-size, though their ethnicity extends to other parts of the Mediterranean, especially North Africa. Although Zahidi sticks mostly to traditional preparations, he has also added a few of his own creations.
Patatas Bravas here are crisp cubes of deep-fried but almost greaseless potatoes, gently napped in a not-too-spicy tomato sauce with just a touch of aioli (garlic mayonnaise). Calamares Fritos (fried calamari) are tender rings of deep-fried squid, placed atop a pool of the same tomato sauce. These, too, are nearly greaseless.
Fresh marinated anchovies, served atop a tangle of lettuces, were the freshest I have had in this country, where too often the gentle flesh has turned rubbery. These anchovies taste nothing like what you get out of a can or a jar; they have a subtle taste and no little hairy bones. Their brilliant white flesh is set off by their shimmering silver skin.
An order of beet salad yielded lovely slices of the deep red vegetable arrayed against a mix of greens and a small mound of bright, pungent goat cheese.
Gambas al Ajillo, another classic Spanish tapas, gets a new twist here, with meaty jumbo shrimp replacing the tiny crustaceans frequently used in this dish. The shrimp are plump and juicy, though the dish could have used more garlic, a fate shared by several other dishes.
The Corner Bistro doesn't limit itself to the usual chorizos with mashed potatoes -- though that dish is on the menu, too -- but also serves Butifarra Catalana Con Habas (Catalan sausage with white beans) and chorizo and sautéed spinach. The Butifarra Catalana pork sausage, though mild, is especially tasty and nicely complemented by the white beans, which have just a hint of tomato in their sauce.
Fresh bay scallops, which had been marinated and then cooked with white wine, were clean-tasting, but this dish also cried out for more garlic to match the pungent taste of cilantro.
Chuleta de Cordero were tiny lamb rib chops, encrusted with chopped pistachios and bread crumbs, and cooked to a lovely medium rare. The breading was heavy, but didn't overpower the mild taste of the lamb.
At dinner, the only entrees are three different versions of paella -- one with chicken, chorizo, shellfish and fin fish, another with seafood and the third, a vegetable paella.
But the lunch menu offers many more options, including grilled salmon, sautéed rainbow trout, cod fillet with artichokes, grilled flank steak and grilled quail. There are also main course-size salads and sandwiches, including grilled lamb sausage with tomato salsa, tuna salad and kefta (grilled seasoned ground beef).
Desserts made at the restaurant include crème caramel, a Catalan specialty similar to crème brûlée, but with a sprinkling of cinnamon instead of the caramel crust, and a dark chocolate mousse. The creme caramel is thick and rich and the best of the lot.