We went with friends and cautiously optimistic expectations to Taberna del Alabardero (1776 Eye Street NW, DC) for Restaurant Week, and our caution turned out to be warranted. TdA has been around a while and has a very good reputation; it is in the second tier of DC restaurants in terms of expense, not in the class of CityZen et al but still up there, with no entree on the regular menu under $30. This made it a good test case for RW, since the three-courses-for-$35 is genuinely a good deal at Taberna, at least relative to every-night-value, as opposed to many participating restaurants where you can normally get an appetizer and entree for under (sometimes well under) $35, which for those of us who aren’t dessert people is really all one needs.
Our friends were our recent Argentina fellow travelers, and the 9pm Taberna table fit right into the pattern. We were seated immediately, and we liked the Spanish decor (red everywhere! huge oil paintings! random cruets of…vinegar? Bull’s blood? Who knows!?). Service was outstanding, attentive but unobtrusive, well-timed; the waiter (a cross between Nancy’s mayor/druglord squeeze on Weeds and Emeril Lagasse, and I mean that in the best possible way) called me “caballero” and it totally worked. “Andante” was left unstated.
Taberna offered a special RW wine list with many options under $35, and our waiter led us to a 2007 El Arte de Vivir tempranillo that made us all very happy. It was on the light side but still had some good tannin and fruit balance. Our wine club tempranillo tasting a year or two ago was not among our favorites, but this one has us interested in revisiting the grape.
The TdA RW food menu is limited, but still some good options; unfortunately the grilled squid was overcooked. It looked pretty on the plate, circled in squid ink sauce, but that goes only so far. The flank steak entree was simply cooked and artfully arranged and tasty but nothing special; the accompanying mashed potatoes were okay, kind of gluey, and the roasted piquillo pepper was excellent but not enough of it. Someone else had salmon and liked it. Flan was fine.
Overall, a decent experience, and I’m glad we went for RW and not on a regular night; with so many other good options in DC, I doubt I will return to Taberna anytime soon. Great decor and service cannot overcome mediocre food! WaPo reviewer Tom Sietsema mentioned in a recent chat that Taberna isn’t perhaps what it used to be, and I’m guessing he’s right. They also have a Seattle outpost, which I will not rush to visit next time I’m out there. Dick’s, on the other hand…