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NolaCaine

SER - Spanish Comfort Food Contest-Winning Restaurant in Ballston

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I have been watching this place get whipped into shape and cannot wait for it to open. I love Spanish food and wine.  I see promise for Ballston's food scene since the chef was the first chef at Taberna del Alabardero, which is a fantastic Spanish stable in the DC area. 
 
"SER Restaurant To Serve Up Spanish-Inspired Comfort Food In Arlington" by Mary Ann Barton on patch.com
 
Team: Chef/Proprietor Josu Zubikarai Sous Chef David Sierra Business Operations/Proprietor Javier Candon Guest Relations/Proprietor Christiana Campos-Candon General Manager Merv Laihow

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No comment. Good luck to them.

Josh: You made me curious.  I did not realize that SER has an 11-year lease and that one of those years is free as part of an award for a restaurant contest.  Very interesting.  As one reflection on your entry, a restaurant that balances beer influence on dining with that of wine is intriguing. 

For more information on the contest, look here:

Ballston Bid Restaurant Challenge

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Being in this business I truly wish success on anyone who tries to make a go of it. That being said I do believe that the contest was somewhat vague in all of its rules as well layout. 7 out of the 8 contestants did multiple dishes, only one team did one dish. We were also led to believe that the entering contestant would be making the dishes if not individually as a whole team. Not everyone followed by those rules. I think the vagueness within the rules as well the end result left a sour taste in many peoples mouths.

I wish them all the best of luck.

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ktmoomau   

My husband is mad that not only did they get a free year of rent, but then they also had the gall to do crowd funding.  Anyway I may try it out on a night he is not home.

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DaveO   

Being in this business I truly wish success on anyone who tries to make a go of it. That being said I do believe that the contest was somewhat vague in all of its rules as well layout. 7 out of the 8 contestants did multiple dishes, only one team did one dish. We were also led to believe that the entering contestant would be making the dishes if not individually as a whole team. Not everyone followed by those rules. I think the vagueness within the rules as well the end result left a sour taste in many peoples mouths.

I wish them all the best of luck.

Ahhhhhhhhhhhh.....life is sometimes unfair, sometimes not well organized.  I'm not being sarcastic.  Its too bad you didn't win.  

As I recall the "deal" its a great price deal.  Then whomever occupies the space has to make it work.     Its just enough off the "main beat" to be challenging and parking and/or getting people to acknowledge the parking availability could be a hurdle.   And of course it has to be a good and appealing restaurant.

But I agree with you.  Good luck to the operators.

My husband is mad that not only did they get a free year of rent, but then they also had the gull to do crowd funding.  Anyway I may try it out on a night he is not home.

A years free rent is not an unusual kind of "inducement" in terms of renting commercial space, always subject to market conditions.

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"Ballston Restaurant Challenge Winner SER Opens Soon With Baby Eels And Tableside Carving" by Jessica Sidman on washingtoncitypaper.com

Baby eels (which I recently learned are fish, not some separate category), tableside ham carving, pink changing table and blue highchairs.

And Spanish food and wine.  Opening on  March 2.  Josh, this article links to the controversy and I found this paragraph interesting:

Among the more unusual offerings: steamed gooseneck barnacles and baby eels, which are referred to as "Spanish caviar." The latter will cost more or less around $100, depending on the season and where they're sourced. In the spring, the eels will come live from Maine. The rest of the year, they're imported frozen from Spain. The eels are prepared simply with olive oil and garlic. "It's like short little spaghettis, that's the way they look," Zubikarai says. "But you look at them one by one, you see the eyes and everything."

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Soft opening on March 5 with a 20% discount through March 11, and the grand opening is scheduled for March 12 according to the Washingtonian.

Hum...wonder if the MarStorm is going to push that.  If not, I might have to brave the elements...but what to do with Thing 1 and Thing 2?

Off topic but who's  over winter>? Me.

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DaveO   

I was at the bar in the first week.  Only had bar food and some drinks.  They clearly had to work out some opening glitches...but I would think they have smoothed out since that period.

I tasted 3 appetizers from the bar menu.  Wasn't stunned or knocked out by any of them though the shrimp and mussels were certainly fine.  Hey...but the red sangria tasted great. ;)    Still I'd return.  Its a delightful looking place, the staff was friendly and I would like to get a much better feel for the mains.  Back when it first opened I had several wondrous meals at Taberna Alabardero and I would hope SER would approach that level.

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If SER ever lives up to Taberna Alabardero, I will bankrupt myself by dinning there.

I finally made it to SER.  Lunch Friday was a beautiful and leisurely walk from my home and, as I predicted, I didn't have to cross a major road. I crossed two, both residential.  I saw the Blue Goose on its last stand which was really interesting to see.

I was in a blissful mood upon arrival.

We ordered a liter of white sangria to start, it was light and tasty for $32.  It was on the lighter side of sangrias and well balanced with no one ingredient overpowering the others.  Would order again.

My husband ordered the Serranito sandwich $9 was good, but not amazing except the bread was perfectly well toasted and this will become important in a minute.

Market Salad $9: We split and it was big enough for two small servings.  This was when I first became impressed.  The salad was perfectly and lightly dressed which allowed the citrus and arugula to speak for themselves.

Gambas al ajillo (Shrimp starter $11):  Great and I could make this at home because it was pretty simple, obvious, and one of the proprietors told us how it was prepared. The garlic slivers are oil fried separately from the EVOO of the dish as to not overpower. Wonderful.  The EVOO was amazing and yet, this starter did not come with bread. None. At first we tore the butt off my husband's bread and then we asked for some. We were given cold bread. This did not accompany the oil well at all so we continued to use toasted sandwich bread until that was no longer and option. We sopped up every last drop of that oil.

SER: If you are reading, please serve some toasted bread with that starter automatically.

Menestra $8, warm veggie stew side item:  I loved this dish.  Much of the squash and eggplant had been simmered down to quite a nice sauce and I think some of the other veggies were added later which allowed them to maintain their individuality, much to the dish's benefit.

Our server informed us that every one of SER's veggies dishes can be prepared as vegan options, which is nice to know if you are oriented in that direction.

Service:  Service was great. Everybody was lovely. We felt welcomed and appreciated and look forward to my next visit.

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DaveO   

Ha!! I too needed, asked for and received bread w/ the shrimp and sopped up the sauce. Definately a requisite need!!

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ktmoomau   

So I had a fun night Friday night at SER.  When I went in the bar was packed apparently they had two separate work happy hours, but I got a cocktail and a seat.  MK was out with some friends.  I had the Wexler's Secret and then was introduced to the people sitting beside me the Wexler's.  This was the beginning of a nice evening.  I had the grilled vegetables and burger.  Both were really well executed and flavorful.  The vegetables were simple with nice sauces.  The burger was juicy, I forget all the toppings- mahon cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion.  It came with seasoned potato wedges and romesco.  It was a huge portion in total, but so tasty.  I had two glasses of the Pingao.  Then the owner came by with some homemade beverage of an alcoholic nature that I got to try.  It was red and had a licorice flavor.  Anyway I was quite well looked after.  The bartenders were just incredibly nice, especially for a really busy evening.  It was a great place to be on your own for an evening.  And the Wexler's were really nice.

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I have been wondering about this place because it is close to where we live. I've heard mixed reviews and it doesn't have that great of feedback on Yelp. It seems like it might be better to go for brunch than dinner service?

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I have been wondering about this place because it is close to where we live. I've heard mixed reviews and it doesn't have that great of feedback on Yelp. It seems like it might be better to go for brunch than dinner service?

Since it opened, I've been 4 or 5 times and most recently went to dinner on May 28, which was a Thursday, I think.  I really like it. I keep going back mostly because I can walk but also because I love the food and service.

I've had the same waiter twice and he's so sweet.  I've had the veggie stew twice as well and it's worth the trip at $8.  The gambas al ajillo are amazing and now SER simply serves bread with it; no need to ask any longer.

On our last visit my husband and I shared the medium sized seafood platter.  The $40 platter comes with ½ dz oysters, 4 truly "colossal" shrimp and a crabmeat cocktail.

What set it apart from others was this:  Frozen Gazpacho for on top of oysters.  Oh why don't they do more with that little pot of yumminess?  I'd eat it straight, on crab, on salad, on everything.

That reminds me, the house salads tend to be nice too. Not a big fan of the papas bravas but then again not a fan of potatoes in general.

Go try it; you  might like it.

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agm   

I have been wondering about this place because it is close to where we live. I've heard mixed reviews and it doesn't have that great of feedback on Yelp. It seems like it might be better to go for brunch than dinner service?

I forgot to post after having dinner here a few weeks ago. Unfortunately I don't remember the details well enough for a real write-up, but overall the food was very good, service was good, and the physical space casual but comfortable. We had a round of various charcuterie (not by that name) that was delicious - can't go wrong with Spanish ham and chorizo, and whatever else was there was equally tasty. I don't really remember the starters. Two of us had braised pork cheeks as our mains, and both thoroughly enjoyed it. The third had bacalao, and her plate probably didn't need to be washed when it went back to the kitchen. Dessert was a rice pudding; if you like it not too sweet, this was excellent. The drink of choice was sangria, in all three varieties on offer (white, red, sparkling white). All were good, if a bit light.

I have no idea what brunch might be like, but it's definitely worth trying for dinner.

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Went to SER shortly after 7 on a Monday night. It was cooling off, so we chose to sit outside on the wide patio area that is set far enough back from Glebe Road to make it enjoyable to sit outside.

 

After deciding on a liter of the sparkling sangria, the +1 and I began looking at the food menu. The sparkling sangria was not "sparkling" and if I didn't know it was supposed to be, would have thought it was a normal white sangria. (Maybe there was a mix up?) It tasted good and they're all the same price, so it didn't seem worth bring up to our server.

 

We ended up ordering small plates and sides after having considered the seafood paella, which we were told, when asked what seafood was in the paella, had "pretty much everything except scallops."

 

We started with the lomo (from the charcuterie section), the puntillitas (mini squids), and steak tartare. The puntillitas came out first. They were fried in a light tempura-like  batter. The squids, about the size of a medium to large peanut, were garnished with lemon aioli and minced jalapeí±os and also came with a lemon wedge. Pretty much your standard calamari in a different form. Next was the steak tartare. I thought the first bite I took was a little bland, but mixed with the quail egg, and making sure you also get bits of anchovy and pickled pepper (piparra), it was better. Then came the lomo, which was excellent and came with small, cracker-consistency breadsticks as a bit of garnish.

 

The next thing to come out were the croquettas. We got half and half, so three spinach and three chicken and ham. I was surprised by the light consistency of the croquettas and what tasted like a béchamel in the spinach ones. I could taste a bit of ham flavor in the chicken and ham ones, but other than that, it didn't seem like there was any meat in them at all.

 

Next were the shrimp, grilled vegetables and papas bravas. The shrimp were really good, if a tiny bit over cooked. I was surprised to find incredibly thin slices of fried garlic in the oil, in addition to chopped garlic and crushed red pepper. As mentioned here, make sure you have bread to soak up the seasoned oil. The grilled vegetables (eggplant, red pepper, green pepper, zucchini, squash, asparagus) were topped with a citrus vinaigrette and goat cheese. The citrus vinaigrette was good, but I'm not sure how much it added to the dish. This is a case of using good ingredients to simply prepare foods and it will taste good. The papas bravas were fine. The spicy tomato sauce was spicier than I was expecting. I would have liked to have had more on the side, but didn't bother asking as I knew that was the dish that was going to go uneaten since we had (not surprisingly) ordered too much food. (I had already talked the +1 out of cheese and sardines"¦)

 

I could have made a meal from the shrimp and grilled vegetables, two fairly standard dishes executed well, but am glad we tried several other dishes. Overall, everything, the food and service, was good and SER is an interesting addition to Ballston. I can definitely see myself going back for drinks in the outdoor area. (They have a small, but decent  draft list and serve in liter, pint and 10 ounce sizes.)

 

NB: The +1 asked about the baby eels, which they don't have often. Our server said that market price is usually around $120 for a three ounce portion.
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There's not much that stands out on the lunch menu. However, the Catch of the Day special today was rockfish, and it was quite good. Served on a bed of stewed vegetables, it hit the spot.

Two other highlights for me were (1) watching the Iberico ham being rolled out and sliced thin for patrons on the outside patio, and (2) a big octopus being dunked in boiling water, probably in preparation for dinner service. The technique was classic -- dip the tentacles a few times until they form perfect curls, and then submerge the rest.

It wasn't very crowded at lunch today. I wonder what happens to that 10-year lease if they can't pay the bills....

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DaveO   
33 minutes ago, Kibbee Nayee said:

There's not much that stands out on the lunch menu. However, the Catch of the Day special today was rockfish, and it was quite good. Served on a bed of stewed vegetables, it hit the spot.

Two other highlights for me were (1) watching the Iberico ham being rolled out and sliced thin for patrons on the outside patio, and (2) a big octopus being dunked in boiling water, probably in preparation for dinner service. The technique was classic -- dip the tentacles a few times until they form perfect curls, and then submerge the rest.

It wasn't very crowded at lunch today. I wonder what happens to that 10-year lease if they can't pay the bills....

I've been there a total of 3 times since it opened.  On two occasions I'd say it was merely okay.  One dinner was very good imho;  all 3 times in the evening, HH and later or for dinner.   I simply can't imagine its ever really busy at lunch.  In fact I worked across Glebe Road for about 1-2 years.  There simply isn't enough of a lunch crowd in that little area to work for a place such as SER.

In fact if one searches in Google for SER  and also BooeyMonger Ballston by name there are interesting graphs on the right of a desktop that give a feel for how relatively busy each place is during the open hours on the days they are open.  SER, despite offering a less expensive smaller lunch menu doesn't look very busy at lunches, but is significantly busier in the evenings.  Booeymonger, busier in the morning and lunch and gets very quiet in the evenings.  

Whether this place establishes itself over the long haul is not going to be based on its lunch time business, imho

 

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