Picking a brunch for special occasions is stressful, particularly when those occasions involve your parents. The situation becomes complicated further when your family includes a high-maintenance Malshi who demands she be included at all familial affairs and thereby mandates pup-friendly brunches.
Not to mention, brunch reservations are complicated by the fact I’ve brunched at hundreds of restaurants in D.C., and I want to provide you, dear readers, with something new.
This recent Father’s Day, I was under the impression my brunch plans would be simple. After reading a Tom Sietsema article, my mother demanded we dine at Taberna del Alabardero, a 30-year-old Spanish restaurant that is a downtown Washington institution. I made the reservation, and did absolutely no background investigation, assuming if it’s good enough for Sietsema, it’s good enough for me.
Well, I made a grave error, my darlings. The overpriced brunch buffet at Taberna was awful. Additionally, I cannot locate the Sietsema article to which my mother referred—it seems he reviewed dinner in 2007, but has not been back recently.
I must preface this review by noting that, while I am no Jose Andres, I did spend a summer in Sevilla, España, and have traveled extensively throughout the country. I know a thing or two about Spanish cuisine, and Taberna del Alabadero is authentic Spanish cuisine. Which leads me to another blunder: I should have realized that Spain is certainly not known for its brunch. (This was also proven by the fact that my first meal on my return to America from my summer in Spain was a huge stack of pancakes). However, Estadio does a phenomenal brunch, so why was Taberna’s so awful? Let’s get into the details.
We sat outside at the restaurant’s singular outdoor table, in front of the restaurant on I street. Despite it being Sunday, the cars driving by were loud, noisy, and unpleasant. The service, however, was impeccable. Our waiter took care of our every need. He was polite and on-point. Daisy Mae, my dog, was given the royal treatment (and she expected no less).
Brunch began with a complimentary basket of thick white bread with olive oil, spicy Maracona almonds, and a plate of fresh Spanish cheeses and Serrano ham. It was all fresh, delicious and authentically Spanish.
Visually, the inside of Taberna del Alabardero is resplendent—lots of red, authentic Spanish tapestries, lace, and old photos hang from the walls. You honestly feel like you’re dining in the living room of a wealthy Spanish widow’s home in Madrid.
The rest of brunch at Taberna is a buffet, which I was unaware of, and which both my father and I loathe. (Father’s Day fail.) You can read the full buffet menu here; but, to summarize, the buffet included: a huge tray of cheese, a cold bar filled with wilted salads without dressing and a bunch of mushy cold dishes that gave me the heebie jeebies, paella, a really foul looking soup, and some meat dishes.
To be more specific, from the cold buffet, I sampled: the deviled eggs stuffed with tuna, which stunk of old seafood and tasted the way they smelled. I also tried the endive salad topped with apple sauce and dried nuts, but essentially only ate raw endives without any flavor or dressing. I did not try the grapes and blue cheese, because the grapes did not look fresh.
Essentially, I ate a lot of cheese, bread and almonds.
The hot bar included roast beef, chicken, meatballs, trout and lentil soup. I took two bites of lentil soup and of trout and simply could not bear to take another. They were that gross. Beau summarizes the hot bar: “Poor quality beef. The fish was served in a ketchup sauce that was disgusting. The paella was super oily, lacked vegetables, and probably wasn’t made with real saffron.”
I’ve eaten paella across Spain, and in several U.S. restaurants, and this was by far the worst I’ve had.
From the “cooking show,” there as an enormous vat of farínetas, a traditional Spanish soup with sausage and pancetta. It was more of a thick, orange goop with a congealed crust on the top. Both my mother and beau poured themselves bowls, and I watched them both attempt to eat it and pretend to like it, in an attempt not to upset me or my father. It was unpleasant and awkward.
The desserts did not save the day. We avoided the “fresh peaches in light syrup” (read: canned peaches) and instead opted for cheesecake, a rolled sponge cake filled with pastry cream, leche frita, fried milk sprinkled with cinnamon, and another dish. The postres lacked flavor and flair and were solidly below average.
The icing on the Spanish sponge cake for this awful meal is that it is priced at $25 a head, knocked down from the $38 price tag that remains on the menus and signage. Perhaps they realized it wasn’t worth $38, but, it still isn’t worth $25, either.
Dad and beau chose to drink themselves through brunch, but Taberna ran out of the Spanish beer they wanted after one round, leaving my two favorite guys hungry and unsatisfied.
The Bitches say: F. I feel bad saying this, because our server was so sweet, but it was just terrible. I’m not sure how dinner is—but do not go for brunch.
Taberna del Alabardero
1776 I Street NW