La Nacional Review 9/28/2009
Ahh.. La Nacional... an old standby with killer paella. I frequent this restaurant quite often and it usually does a good job of satisfying my tapas/paella cravings. We started this evening with the following tapas: Pulpo(Octopus) Gallego, Croquetas of the Day, Fried Calamari, Sopa de Ajo, Seafood Salad (Salpicon), Pork kebobs (Pincho Moruno), and the Patatas Bravas. We followed the tapas with a trio of paellas: The Arroz Negro, Fideua, and the Paella de la Casa. For dessert we had the Peras in Vino, Crema Catalana, Flan, and Almond Cake. The entire meal was washed down with liberal doses of the Red Sangria.
Out of the all the tapas, the best was the Pincho Moruno and Patatas Bravas. The Pork Kebobs were nicely charred on the outside while the inside remained juicy. My only gripe about the dish was the portion size. A single order comes with only two measly skewers, def. not enough for the three of us who were fighting over the last yummy morsel of pork. The Patatas Bravas however suffered from no such problem. The crispy fried potatos came out in a small mound covered with two sauces, a white mayo based sauce and a red spicy sauce. When the two sauces intermingle, the cooling effect of the white sauce counter balances the heat of the red hot sauce. The potatoes served as a perfect vehicle to convey the resulting hot/cool flavors to our expectant mouths. The Garlic and Bread soup was also very tasty. Despite the layer of oil floating on top, the consomme like broth managed to taste extremely light. I'm not sure how they managed to make the soup so light, considering I could SEE the sheen of olive oil floating on top of it. Being a chilly Fall night, the soup hit the spot and I am sure I would order it again next time.
The Octopus Salad, Fried Calamari, and the Salpicon were in dire need of a liberal sprtiz of the lemon. The Octopus was well cooked, not rubbery, but was rather bland. Likewise the Salpicon while containing a medley of clams, mussels, and squid was less flavorful than I had expected. After splashing some lemon on both dishes, the flavors became a little more pronounced, almost Ceviche like. In retrospect, I enjoyed the Salpicon more than the octopus and would reorder it the next time. The Fried Calamari consists ONLY of rings of squid, no tentacles. I was disappointed at this because the tentacles are my favorite part. The batter was unseasoned, heavy, and all in all pretty bland. I will definitely skip this mediocre dish next time.
The trio of Paellas came next and we were not disappointed. Our favorite has always been the Arroz Negro, made with squid ink and full of shellfish. This Paella is oilier than the other two, probably due to the squid ink, but the depth of the flavor is also much greater. The Fideua comes with crispy noodles topped with chicken and seafood. The dish was not oily at all and I believe it is just as good as the pricier version at Soccarrat Paella Bar. When mixed with the Arroz Negro on our plates, it worked surprisingly well in balancing the oiliness of the squid ink rice. The least favorite was the house Paella. To be fair, we were pretty stuffed by then and in fact the paella was very flavorful and less oily than the Arroz Negro. We just had no room for it lol.
Of the desserts our favorite was the Pears in Red Wine. The pears were not overly sweet and they maintained their texture without becoming mushy. The Crema Catalana was the Spanish version of Creme Brulee and while it was well executed, with a crispy sugar top, was nothing special. The Flan and the Almond cake we found mediocre. The Flan had an almost pudding/jello like quality to it while the Almond cake was dry and crumbled apart when we tried to eat it. I have heard good things about the Almond cake, so perhaps we caught them on an off night. The Sangria was tasty as always, with a more orange flavor than in other places.
All in all it was an enjoyable evening. While not in the same league as Alta, Pipas y Mas, or Pinxtos, La Nacional still executes traditional Spanish tapas well. However the real draw is the Paella and while I would still give a slight edge to Soccarrat Paella Bar, La Nacional comes in at a close second.