There’s a new spot in Virginia that my D.C. friends are buzzing about. And that sentence alone is a strange one to write.
Rarely do my District-tied friends cross the bridge just for a restaurant, but recently they’ve been flocking to Ballston (of all places!) for the happy hour and dinner menu at glamorous SER.
From here in New York, I’ve been admiring the Instagrams. So when I traveled back to D.C. for the weekend, it was first on my list for brunch.
SER, which stands for Simple Easy Real, considers itself a neighborhood Spanish joint. But its well-designed, classy interior and epic, high-quality menus make you quickly push aside those humble claims. (Indeed, the restaurant comes from the same roots as Taberna del Alabardero.)
My Virginia friends who met me there (with their babies, of course), mentioned that the couple that owns SER lives in their neighborhood, and they were alerted to the new spot via neighborhood listserve. Oh, Virginia.
They want to support the restaurant and see it thrive just as much as my tunnel-hopping D.C. friends do. In fact, everyone is rooting for SER. I just hope it survives in its desolation—this restaurant should be nesting in CityCenter or the trendiest part of Shaw. It is mind-blowing that it’s pulling in the crowds to what essentially is a corporate business park.
The space is gorgeous, and its menus are interesting and peppered with rich Spanish dishes made with great ingredients—no tapas to be found here. The group of us took over a huge table next to the floor-to-ceiling windows. The restaurant was shockingly empty, and so servers stood around, kind of lingering and smiling.
We ordered Bloody Marys and mimosas. The Bloodys were hit or miss. My first bloody, a classic one, was perfect—ice cold, spicy, and just strong enough. But my second order was overpowering on the pepper and booze.
The Andalucian Bloody was unique, made with gazpacho, spices, Javier’s Hangover Helper; Oloroso Don Nuño sherry, tomato juice, and spices. The boyfriend liked it; I did not. An acquired taste. But the mimosa (made with cava, of course) was nicely presented and a crowd pleaser.
The staff dropped a few baskets of bread and olive oil on the table. All the plateware is charming different, as if the owners raided Virginia’s antique markets of its porcelain and doilies. We ordered a few appetizers to start, as we couldn’t decide on our entrees.
The croquetas arrived piping hot—too hot to touch—and were filled with either chicken and ham or spinach. They were delicious. The steak tartare was gorgeous, topped with a quail egg, and tasted as good as it looked. Alas, only three tiny pieces of toast on the side, making it a hard dish to share.
We ordered the “colossal shrimp cocktail,” intrigued by the supposed size. Indeed, the shrimp were big, and artfully presented on packed ice sprinkled with pretty colorful flowers. But they were in their shrimp casing, touching on one of my biggest restaurant peeves.
The brunch menu itself is an array of Spanish-style takes on classic brunch dishes, but the focus is on the breakfast sandwiches. I always appreciate a good breakfast sandwich, especially if it’s made with the freshest bread.
These sandwiches hit the nail on the head, and were presented wrapped in paper, as if straight from a street cart in Andalucia. My sandwich, the Sara Montiel (aka “the way to Marlon Brando’s heart”) was packed with jamón serrano and garlic chips, with a fried egg in the center, which broke apart when I ate it. That’s definitely the way to my heart.
We also tried the Serranito sandwich, made with the same bread but with a completely different taste: grilled pork loin, deep fried peppers, and jalapeño mayo. Despite being mayo-heavy, it felt very light and flavorful.
The rest of the dishes were more classic. I love the departure from tapas. The huevos fritos is the Grand Slam of SER, with two sunny side eggs, fries and your choice of meat. Order the jamon Serrano, my friends.
The huevos a la cazuela is an egg casserole, made with that wonderful Serrano, green peas, and tomatoes. We all agreed the patatas bravas were delightful, served drizzled with spicy tomato and aioli.
But we weren’t done. Against all better judgement, we ordered the paella. We just couldn’t resist. After a bit of a leisurely wait, the seafood concoction arrived with fare—the server presented it grandly and then mixed it in its giant skillet tableside.
Once served, it was the perfect amount for five people, and the seafood was fresh and full of delicious squigglies. My tablemate lamented that it was missing the crunchy rice that is typically found at the bottom of the pan, but I thought it was perfect.
Everything was lovely: The service was attentive, the space gorgeous, and the food and drinks, for the most part, on par. We were quite pleased—until the bill arrived. A bit shocked at the sum (on top of an $11 parking fee, which should have actually been $2 with our server’s validation), we scrounged our pennies and paid the whopping bill.
Then we waddled into the sunlight, full and pleased, but wishing we were in Seville. Not, you know, Virginia.
The Bitches say: B+ A gorgeous space, delicious brunch, attentive service, but a tad overpriced. Perhaps a bottomless deal would take off the strain.
1110 North Glebe Road
Arlington, VA (Ballston)
SER serves brunch Saturdays and Sundays.