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Sep 7, 2007 09:47 AM

Last night at Taberna del Alabardero

Husband's birthday

The good:
-Service was friendly
-Appetizers: A fried sort of crepe with crab, asparagus and spinach. This was the definate highlight of the food. The other app was a Cheese dish with a tasty goat of some kind (although when I asked the server what it was it because I couldn't remember what the menu said, he came back about 20 minutes later with the answer, "It's goat cheese." ) It was covered with roasted crushed peanuts and warm. Also on the plate was a tempora battered Tittia.
-The rice in the Paella. It was cooked and seasoned perfectly.
-The decor. Not as intimate as it looked by the pictures on the internet but still an attractively decorated space.
-The wine. Had a delicious Mencia.
-They did the thing where they write "Happy Birthday So and So" on the dessert plate in chocolate sauce for my husband.
-Less expensive than I thought it would be. 2 apps, entree for two (that's how they handle the paella) 2 desserts, 2 glasses of Cava, 1 glass of port, 1 $65 bottle of wine (that I'm sure retails for about $20 or $25), still water, Check was just over $200. with the tax in that number.

The bad:
-Service. The word my husband came up with works best..."Discombobulated". No one knew what the last person who was at our table had done. There was no communication between staff. The staff was also not educated well enough to answer some of the simplest questions. It was 8:30pm and our main server had no idea what the fish of the day was, the aforementioned goat cheese conversation, etc.. Also when we sat down we received two nice little dishes. One had 2 Spanish sausage pieces for us to each try one and another had some olives. I'd had one olive and the server whisked the dish away because he needed to fit something else on the table. It went like that for the night. I felt like things were being picked up just a little bit before they should be and no one gave you chance to protest.
-The meats in the Paella. There was chicken, duck and rabbit in ours. They were tough and completely tasteless. This meant that my dinner entree consisted basically of really well done Spanish rice.
-The desserts. One was just okay; the drunken bannana. The other was not okay. We tried the Cabrales Ice Cream. I ate more of it than my husband did trying to understand it better and find something I liked about it. He was not in the mood to keep trying and decided immediately that Cabrales ice cream was a very bad idea and they probably shouldn't have it on the menu. Theory=good, Actual product=Bad...very bad.

Not exactly a glowing report, eh? We had a good time but for all the reviews and accolades I've read/heard about this place I can't say I'm impressed. I even read something that claimed this was named the best Spanish restaurant in the country.

Definately the most forgettable high end dining experience I've had since moving to Washington two years ago.

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  1. Good report and Interesting observations. I'm really surprised the servers didnt know the food, they are usually top notch there. I think the food there is very good, but I would never order the paella. Its hard to get good paella at a restaurant b/c they need to take a lot of shortcuts to serve it in 30-45 minutes, thus having a negative effect on the final product. The squid in ink there is amazing, even better than most places in spain.

    I understand that their execution on desert was far from good, but i do apreciate that they really go pretty creative on deserts instead of serving up flan (which is delicious) and the usual suspects.

    1. That's really too bad about your experience. I've never eaten there for a full meal (to expensive). But I really think their highlight is their should try their tapas happy hour sometime since it's significantly cheaper and really delicious.

      My boyfriend has eaten there before. He lived in Spain for quite awhile and thinks their food is very very authentic. Saying that though---he preferes the tapas at happy hour more then the full meal

      1. Every once in a while someone on Chowhound gets carried away and makes some kind of bizarre proclamation like "Best Spanish Restaurant in the Country." Clearly from someone who is not all that well traveled. Might not make the top twenty in Miami alone.

        Taberna has a well-known knock against it, underseasoned food. The meats can be really boring. Like Elyssa above, there are a couple of tapas I really like, the patatas bravas and the pate de conejo. Both GREAT and the right price at half-price happy hour. I have had very good razor clams there. And very good rabbit. And fresh anchovies. But every post on Chowhound about the paella has been very negative. As a whole, I think the PQR here is problematic.

        13 Replies
        1. re: Steve

          That may have been me - that I've heard people say that. Though I don't think Miami has 20 Spanish restaurants .... Sorry to hear about the service - in my experience it has been very professional and knowledgeable. Agree about the tapas - and they have a great suckling pig, though I think it has to be ordered ahead of time.

          Edit - actually I searched ... not just me (grin) - but usually "one of the best".

          1. re: MMRuth

            Oh I've heard the "Best in the Country" used a number of times...and not just on Chowhound. I haven't eaten at enough Spanish restaurants...especially that don't include some sort of dumbing down or fusion--to make a distinction.

            What does impress me though is my boyfriend and his friends who he lived in Spain with all go back to Taberna for a trip down memory lane so to speak. I think that speaks volumes about the authenticity of their tapas at least. The paella is another issue---and really underseasoned paella sounds like a nightmare to me. It should be filled with flavor.

            1. re: Elyssa

              Yes - I've had similar feedback from people who lived in Spain etc. And agreed - that paella sounds lousy.

          2. re: Steve

            What I like most about the place is that it reminds me of Spain (where I'm from) and Manolo the bartender does a great job at taking care of everyone. I dont agree with Steve's comment on Miami having better spanish food than DC, or at least that hasnt been my experience in Miami. La Taberna puts out good food, but you have to be adventourous to eat there and try the more obscure dishes, b/c the simple dishes tend to be bland.

            I agree with Steve on the PQR

              1. re: MMRuth

                PQR - I'm assuming, as I usually see QPR - would be Price - Quality Ratio. (oops, Hal already addressed this at the bottom) Oh well.

              2. re: cleveland park

                I completely agree with Cleveland Park's assessment, except that Las Culebrinas in Miami, for example, is an exceptional restaurant. Especially the original location on Flagler.

                I have heard very good things about the two Spanish restaurants in Rockville, MD (Andalusia and Costa del Sol) , but I have not been.

              3. re: Steve

                The best Spanish in the country comment was not made on Chowhound. I've also learned to read all things having to do with restaurants with a large grain of Fleur de Sel but the remark I was referring to was in an article that I believed to be trustworthy. Good info on the tapas/happy hour though, thank you!

                1. re: mrspvr

                  Oh good - we're excused (grin).

                2. re: Steve

                  It was actually the Spanish Government that designated Taberna as "the best Spanish restaurant outside Spain," not some random CH who got carried away by the Jerez. In the US that wouldn't be very hard as there are few purely Spanish restaurants which haven't strayed over into fusion food of some kind. Taberna sticks to the Alta Cucina, probably why they give short shrift to paella. They probably keep it on the menu for those not familiar with Spanish cuisine.
                  If you judge it with an American palate, you may have a different view than that of Spaniards looking for a taste of home.

                  1. re: MakingSense

                    Forgive me, but some of these remarks may come off a bit condescending? "They probably keep it on the menu for those not familiar with Spanish cuisine." ------------"If you judge it with an American palate, you may have a different view than that of Spaniards looking for a taste of home,"

                    While I don't consider myself an afficianado of Spansih cuisine, I don't believe the usage of "American palate" was included in your post without some measure of pseudo-culinarian snobbery? I am proud of my "American palate"; ready to accept the flavors of all cultures for what they truly should be.

                    And if the remark about keeping paella on a menu is meant to say that Americans need their food to be dumbed down in order for us to appreciate it, than I must say that I take issue with that as well. Even if I'm ordering something that may seem decidedly pedestrian to others, I believe it should still be done with integrity reflecting the beauty in the spices and culinary applications of the culture that it represents.

                    I sincerely wish that in my response I haven't bordered on insulting you, but I believe that I may have misrepresented myself in my original post based on yours and wanted to specify my point.

                    1. re: mrspvr

                      I think perhaps you misunderstood them. They didn't mean to say the american palate was less just different, which it is. The same way our palate is different from those in any other country. It isn't neccessarily a palate a guess, but just foods we are used to and taste best to us, which normally represent home.

                      I noticed in Barcelona it was a lot of meat and potatoes and seafood. Not too too many light veggies, and some very heavy sauces, a huge preference for pork products, just different.

                      And paella is included in a lot of places because it is what Americans first think of when we think Spanish food, but it is hard to make well it a restaurant setting, although you shouldn't put it on your menu if you can't make it well. But to give it credit, it is supposed to be well done rice, the bottom is supposed to get crispy.

                      It isn't dumbed down and I think anyone can appreciate it for what it is, but it may taste more authentic for those it represents home, and not what someone imagined for someone who didn't grow up eating it.

                      But your issues and service are regrettable. I just would be careful before you jump to conclusions on here about what people meant. I don't think they were trying to be insulting at all.

                      I don't think someone from Japan would be able to tell me what Coconut Cream Pie tastes most like home, so I don't expect to be able to tell the Spanish what tastes like home to them.

                      1. re: mrspvr

                        I didn't intend those remarks to be condescending in the least.
                        Just as you wouldn't order French country dishes at a formal Haute Cuisine restaurant or jambalaya at Antoine's, you might not really expect a dish like paella to fit with the rather classic menu at Taberna.
                        Paella is probably the most well-known Spanish dish to Americans at large - and I'm not talking just about CH posters here. Customers might expect it on the menu so it's there but their heart may not be in it. It's an informal dish, often cooked on an open fire outside for casual gatherings.
                        Hey, if you ask people in other countries to name an American dish? Hamburgers. Obviously we do better than that.

                        Your dinner sounded truly dreadful. The service in particular doesn't even sound like Taberna. My comments about the American palate were not directed at you for no palate deserves or can redeem poorly prepared food.
                        I was reacting to recent criticisms of Taberna and other Latin places in town for food that is underseasoned. I think the trends in fusion food have led many to assume that Latin food in general should be highly spiced when some of it isn't and shouldn't be. As you say, it should be done "with integrity," and that's what I meant by it not being done to please American ideas of what it should taste like. Spicing it up can be "dumbing down." You may be very willing to enjoy authentic tastes, but increasingly Americans are expecting more intense flavors.

                  2. Thanks for the feedback! You've all shed a little light on the experience for me. Although I am in the dark with MMRuth.... What is PQR?

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: mrspvr

                      I suspect PQR is "Price to Quality Ratio".

                    2. When I lived in DC I was something of a regular and friendly with David Bueno, the somellier and manager -- so perhaps I have a skewed perspetive. And who knows how the restaurant has changed over the past 2 1/2 years... but, this report does surprise me. Taberna del Alabardero was consistently my favorite restaurant in DC. The fish was never extrodianry. But the red meat, particuloarly from the rib of the animal, was sublime. Also, the soups -- both savory and sweet -- were always extrodinary. And the pineapple carpaccio with saffron dessert is still the single best dessert I have ever had.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: whiner

                        Interesting... I don't believe that dessert is on the menu anymore. I'm sure would have noticed it as the word "carpaccio" makes my eyes bug out involuntarily.

                        I definately would have tried that as I love the two ingredients you remember as the mainstays of the dish.

                        1. re: whiner

                          Your comment "The fish was never extraordinary" sure got my attention. Taberna has been in Washington over fifteen years. In the early days of Taberna's existence, they used to make a grilled swordfish with eggplant vinaigrette that was so sublime I ordered it every single time I ate at the restaurant -- and we ate there with frequency. Even after it disappeared from the menu, I used to be able to order this. I guess at some point, everyone in the kitchen associated with the swordfish preparation left Taberna, and I could no longer order it.

                          I haven't thought about that pineapple dessert in a long time. It sure was fabulous.

                          1. re: Indy 67

                            Did any of you go ever order the orgasmic chocolate desert at la Taberna? I think it was one of the best descriptions by a server in my life. I dont think a single word came out of her mouth during the description, but we fully understood how good the desert was - and then we tasted it