Light pours through the windows that wrap around the young SER in Ballston, where the tables are set with glasses and napkins in ocean blue, and the banquettes and bar stools are sheathed in leather the color of a banana smoothie.
The relaxed atmosphere of the restaurant, whose initials stand for Simple Easy Real, reflects the owners’ backgrounds. “We’re both from beach cities in Spain,” says Javier Candon, who co-owns the sunny addition to Arlington with chef Josu Zubikarai. Candon hails from Punta Umbria, an hour west of Seville; Zubikarai is a native of San Sebastian. Neither partner wanted to make the restaurant, which is also stocked with a granite bar and a 12-seat “family” table, look overly Spanish. “We prefer to show Spain on the plate,” says Candon, “not the decor.”
And so they do. Request a plate of jamon pata negra, and a leg of the famous black-hooved Spanish pig is wheeled to the table, where it is carved by Candon and served in ruddy slices with stubby bread sticks. Battered baby squid streaked with aioli shows off model frying (and a touch of heat, from diced jalapeños). SER’s garlicky shrimp and elegant potato omelet rival the small plates served at standard-bearer Jaleo in the District. Blood sausage from Spain, sliced into thick coins, emphasizes the “real” in SER. Some of the dishes appear on old china. “We want you to feel like you’re eating in our house,” says Candon.
Zubikarai, who opened the formal Taberna del Alabardero in 1989 and served as executive chef of the Washington restaurant for 13 years, intends to serve classic dishes representing the variety of his homeland. Enter bacalao, tweaked for modern tastes: Zubikarai’s salt cod comes with more vegetables (peppers and onions) than is traditional.
Six stools flank a window looking into a part of the kitchen where paellas are assembled. A pan of rice swollen with house-made fish stock and dressed with shrimp, mussels and clams is scraped clean by my posse, gathered at the communal table used earlier by the staff for its family meal. To catch office workers and the happy-hour crowd, another counter serves soups and sandwiches by day and raw oysters and other seafood at night. In the works: pintxos, Basque-style snacks designed to go with drinks.
The owners acquired the property, formerly the Red Parrot Asian Bistro, via a competition that netted them a year’s free rent and an interest-free loan, among other benefits.
Good call, judges. Good Spanish cooking isn’t common in Washington. And for a place that’s been open only a month, this one comes with the surprise of good service.
Ultimately, SER is exactly what its name implies: easy to like.
1110 N. Glebe Rd., Arlington. 703-746-9822. www.ser-restaurant.com. Dinner entrees, $18 to $30.