My birthday dinner this year took place at Estadio in the company of my best friend who came to visit, during and despite a snowstorm, to celebrate. I had intended to go Logan Circle/U Street hopping, but many of my go-to joints were closed for the evening due to inclement weather. Fortunately, Estadio welcomed us, as did my favorite bar and night-cap Mecca, The Gibson.
I’ve had pre-dinner/pre-night-out bites of embutidos y queso twice or thrice at Estadio, but have never actually gone for a proper meal. This time I looked past the cutting board (I eat enough Serrano and Valdeón at work for free). I ordered things the kitchen had actually had a hand in. Unfortunately, I did not have my camera with me, and thus could not adequately capture the dishes in a physical manner. They remain, nevertheless, very well defined in my memory. I will have to return soon to write a more thorough review of the menu, which is rather diverse and all the more difficult to make selections from.
I sampled their Slushitos, a rotating selection of crushed ice drinks spun in a slush machine – things like rum and pistachio, blueberry and Bourbon, which are awesome to try but a bit much after the 3rd sip. I decided to start off on a lighter note with a gin cocktail made with house-seasoned red wine. A refreshing, boozy sangria. We also ordered a Porron of red wine with some sort of soda added and had a grand time practicing pouring techniques and getting our teeth stained bloody red as we waited for our food. My friend insisted on the Butternut Squash Soup, while I stood firm in my decision to only consume liquid in the form of craft cocktails and wine to save the limited space in my stomach on my special night. I did try a few spoonfuls though, and thoroughly enjoyed the sweetness of the squash and the addition of vanilla, which resulted in a slightly floral note rather than an excess of sweetness. Sprinkled over the surface were sunflower seeds that had been tossed in paprika for a smokey heat that balanced the vegetal sweetness nicely. A good amount of olive oil was drizzled over the top, making the soup more luscious and liquid, easy on the palate. It is a rather ironic twist that as I write this I am actually in an airport in Argentina, heading back from Patagonia to Buenos Aires, where 3 days ago I did indeed consume the perfect morcilla. The case was unbelievably crisp, charred black but not burnt, with the inside gushing out like guts when the exterior was poked into. Back at Estadio I ordered the Bocadillo de Sauteed Morcilla with Cabrales in part to cheers with my friend to my (then) upcoming trip. It turned out to be among the best blood sausages I’ve had in D.C., though it still fell short of the treat as prepared by literally any parilla in Argentina. But that was to be expected. This was a rather handsome morcilla sandwich, made with a crunchy, chewy house-made roll that had just enough give to soak up the grill-juices of the sausage. The morcilla itself had great flavor, that innard-y, metallic thang I love so much. It was not seasoned with autumnal spices to mask this flavor but was largely left alone, licked only by smoke from the grill. It was crispy all around and very satisfying, with just enough reddish brown oil dripping off to really do the meat justice. The texture probably resulted from the filling being squeezed onto the surface of the grill so that the whole thing would cook through, rather than keeping some parts mushy as with the morcilla I idealize. There was also no contrast between tight, crisp skin and creamy, soft interior but I guess crisping the whole thing up is the second best way of cooking the thing. The tangy blue Cabrales smeared onto the lower slice provided a very smart complexity, the acidity and funk waking up the warm, savory smoke of the meat and the semi soft texture of the cheese giving way to the heat coming off the latter. Our next dish really sent me soaring back in time to the semester I spent in Santiago, Chile where, after a few too many liters of Escudo, my go-to snack would inevitably be a big plate of salchipapas to share. It’s basically a large plate of fries and grilled (or, if lucky, fried) sausage wienies thrown together and sprinkled with salt. Estadio’s version is a bit more grown-up, though just as fun. An air of humor and boyish charm. Roasted baby chorizo links take the place of hot dog meat and instead of soggy, greasy fries the meat is lain onto wonderfully airy and light potato crisps. The sizzling hot chorizos burst forth spicy red juice when bitten into, the spice of paprika blending beautifully with the smokey char from the grill. And the chips are not the type that get old after one or two bites. They are thin, starchy and wonderfully crisp slices of potato with the potato skin left on and clearly visible. We ate all of them. A good dish to go with just about any drink, though for this one I recommend beer over wine. The best thing we ate that night was hands-down the Crispy Duck Breast, served on a bed of delicate Beluga lentils and chard prepared Catalan-style with plenty of garlic and toasted pine nuts mixed in. There were also some citrusy spears of what I think was kohlrabi over the top, adding extra crunch and a light acidity to an otherwise warm, soft, savory dish. The duck was cooked perfectly, left a bit rare as it should be. Incredibly moist and easy to chew, packed with plenty of natural flavor and seasoned minimally. The skin could have been crispier, though the slices were rather thin, so maybe I just didn’t have enough of it on each piece to correctly judge the texture. The stew of lentils was fabulously rich, with the nutty, toasted flavor heightened even more by pine nuts and charred veggies lain over the top. The beady, firm little lentils stood out from their sauce, maintaining their texture and bounce. There were a few spots in the stew that seemed burnt on the bottom, but it resulted in caramelization and smoke rather than bitterness. ‘S’all good. The duck and lentils worked well together and a bite containing a bit of everything satisfied more than one desire at once.
Estadio is a vibrant, visually vivid restaurant which serves up its bread with a side of circus. Sit near the marble counter in the back to watch the open kitchen in action, or pull up a stool by the bar to witness the artful assembly of meat and cheese boards. Every experience I’ve had here has been a memorable one. They’ve all been casual 2-plate drop-ins, perhaps because the place exudes a casual vibe and promises not to judge one for not ordering a full meal. But maybe sometime soon I will do just that. And I will not forget to bring my camera this time.