A very good friend of mine gave me a giftcard to Estadio– one of the restaurants at the top of my ‘to-try’ list- for my birthday. J and I decided- somewhat on a whim- to put that to use a couple of Fridays ago.
I’d heard the wait time at the restaurant could be hours, but the hostess told us it would only be 45 minutes to 1 hour, so we made our way to the boisterous bar and ordered a couple of sangrias (one red and one white). My only complaint about my red sangria was the mint flavor was not as strong as I would have liked (it was more like a garnish). The bartender also recommended I try the Tinto de Verano-red wine with their housemade lemon soda, which I enjoyed maybe more than the sangria since it wasn’t too sweet. J tried the beer on draft, which was average, but then again, it’s pretty clear wine and cocktails is Estadio’s thing.
Our table was ready sooner than I expected, and we were led to the other side of the bar, the centerpiece of the restaurant. The hostess seated us at the end of a long table. One note: these were the heaviest restaurant chairs I’ve ever experience. J literally had to push me up to the table, and I couldn’t get out without his help, especially since I was seated right against the bar crowd. Made things a little awkward.
We began our meal with two each of the pintxos, which are simply one bite on a skewer. We had the chorizo, manchego & pistachio-crusted quince, and jamon-wrapped fig, almond, cabrales- both of which packed as much flavor as one could ask for out of one bite. Next up was a large bowl of butternut squash soup with pepitas. Given that everything on the menu is essentially small plates, we were pleasantly surprised by how much soup Estadio served. The pepitas added a nice crunch to the soup, but I would have liked a few more, and J wanted more spice to cut the sweetness of the squash. It was definitely tasty though and a great value.
Next up- the highlight of our meal- the bocadillos. We ordered two- the“Escalivada” grilled vegetables, black olive puree & alioli, and the pork belly & pickled shishito peppers. My first bite of the pork belly didn’t give me a taste of the peppers, but the subsequent bites had the pepper flavor that the pork really needed to elevate its flavor. After a couple of bites and each of us gushing over the sandwich we were eating, J & I switched, and I had my own taste of the veggie bocadillo. Thus began the battle of my taste buds (and between J & I) to decide which sandwich was better. The Verdict: Rematch needed!
After the bocadillos, our expectations were high. Unfortunately, maybe too high as our next dishes disappointed. The wild mushroom croquettas with arugula and roasted peppers tasted like stuffing from Thanksgiving. Yes, yummy but they lacked the depth and complexity of the other dishes. The hanger steak with salsa verde and chunky olive oil potatoes was visually appealing. We ordered the steak medium when we should have opted for medium rare, but the potatoes (prepared chunky- just the way I like them!) and the salsa verde helped. We also ordered the calamari. I found it to be too tough with an overwhelming charred taste. Definitely a dish we could have done without.
We ended the meal with another glass of red sangria and pumpkin bread pudding with spiced ice cream.
I expect bread pudding to be a little moister than this one, but still delicious. I enjoyed the ice cream more, but J preferred the bread pudding itself.
Overall, Estadio makes for a fun splurge of a night out. It’s not quiet by any stretch of imagination, yet it has an intimate feel because of the small space, dim lighting, and need to huddle in to hear one another. I’m looking forward to returning in warmer months to try the slushitos (alcoholic slushees)!
J’s Take: Estadio is one of those places that really plays by its own rules. They don’t do reservations after 6pm. They don’t rely on many well-known beer brands. They didn’t want to cater to American tastes in the slightest.
It’s a mixed blessing. Sure, we went to Estadio to try something new. But tapas places, with their small multiple dishes, let you balance between new things and trusted favorites. So you can get something you know is satisfying should your gambled dish not be as great as you imagined.
While C already discussed everything else, I just wanted to talk about the sandwiches they served us- the bocadillos. The sandwiches were quite tasty, the pork belly being the best I’ve ever tasted. This actually surprised me. You see, pork belly was on track to being one of my least favorite dishes overall, regardless of where I went. It was frequently dry and rather bland, and frustrated me because C kept ordering it, disappointment after disappointment.
But Estadio viewed pork belly as something to be spiced red and served with pickled shishito peppers. They understand that pork belly provides a great base of a meal, but that it must draw flavor from other elements. Pork isn’t steak, it needs something to go with it. Just as we serve pork chops with sauerkraut, apple sauce or coleslaw, they knew that pork is not a standalone meat. And they flavored it well with a combination of sourness and spice.
The pork sandwich was very good. But meals like the escalivada grilled vegetables with the olive puree and aioli could turn me vegetarian because of how delicious they are. As I sampled both, I had a vision of a food truck that only served sandwiches composed of the contents of these two bocadillos. The vegetables were something between soft and crunchy, snappy both physically and in spice.
I don’t know if I’ll return to Estadio anytime soon, but I will be on the look out for bocadillos sandwich shops in the future.
Estadio is located at 1520 14th Street Northwest, Washington, DC, in Logan Circle.