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Del Mar - Mallorcan-Influenced, Cavernous, Spanish, Fine Dining at the Wharf

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I was a bit surprised to see that there were no posts on this restaurant, as Fabio has historically been a figure that has sparked conversation on DR.  My wife and I went last night to a mostly full restaurant that is styled very similarly to Fiola Mare, although this space is much larger than Fabio's place on the Georgetown waterfront. 

Our first observation is that there are a lot of people working on the floor at Del Mar.  Including the 2 women working at the host stand, we interacted with 6 different people in our first 2 minutes after being seated.  Some people find this style of service attentive; my wife and I feel smothered.  My feeling is that if I haven't even opened my menu, any question other than the type of water that I would like is premature. Especially questions about wine from the sommelier before I have been given a wine list, but I digress.  After the service staff dispersed, I delved into the menu, which was organized by rather short sections of 3-5 dishes by different types of raw and cold dishes, hot dishes/appetizers, mains, and plates to be shared.  We kicked things off with 6 oysters from New Jersey that were described as "briny and succulent", which is right up my alley.  Unfortunately, while the oysters were succulent, I would definitely not describe them as briny, as they were a bit flat and not woken up by the Escabeche Vinaigrette. Another sauce was also delivered with the oysters, described as an "aioli", which was interesting as I have never heard of anyone having a mayo-like dip with oysters.  This sounded awful to me, but my curiosity was piqued, so I tried it to make sure I wasn't missing anything with one of my oysters, and it was just as poorly paired and bad as it sounds.  I'm assuming the inclusion was a mistake, as I can't imagine anyone liking what I tried last night.  Shame on me for not using my better judgment, I guess.

From there we went to hot appetizers, where we chose the Sopa de Castana y Cangrejo and the Scallops, Sea Urchin, and Black Truffles. The soup was far and away the best dish of the night, exactly what we were looking for on a cold night. It felt vintage-Trabocchi, very rich and flavorful, extracting flavors from ingredients and appropriate spicing to deliver a rich, well-balanced dish.  We wanted seconds. The scallops were also nice, well paired with the vibrant sea urchin, but this would have been a better warm weather dish as it was very cold and very light.

For our main, we got the Arroz Negro de Calamares en su Tinta. I should note here that we have had paella and arroz negro many times on trips to Spain and at restaurants in the US.  We have had a couple versions that we really liked, but we often feel underwhelmed by these types of dishes.  Maybe we don't love paella (or Spanish food in general)?  I'm not sure, but I figure that I would point this out before saying that we were massively disappointed in this dish. It came out and was plated well by our waiter into large portions along with a side of lemon and, yet again, aioli.  I asked the waiter about the aioli, to see if there was a particular way to eat the arroz with it as I have never seen it presented this way.  He said that it was how "everybody" ate the dish, which confused me because I have had paella in Mallorca and Barcelona and have never seen it come with any sort of mayo substance.  Is this normal?  Again, I took the bait and put a dab of it on the side of my plate, dipping a bit of calamari and black rice in to take a taste.  No.  I can't believe that "everybody" eats this dish this way, as it became gooey and added nothing to the flavor palate.  I ignored it for the rest of the meal, but again I must not be getting it, because I found the arroz to be bland and rather uninteresting, even with a copious amount of lemon squirted on top.  Also, the calamari was somehow grilled and very chewy on the outside, but slimy and wet on the inside, combining both ways that I don't like my calamari cooked into one bite somehow. We were starving, but both of us still left a lot on our plates, as this just did not work for us on so many levels.

We were a bit disheartened after the arroz negro, so we decided to pass on dessert and get the bill.  For 2 glasses of Cava Brut, a middle of the road bottle of Ribeiro ($65), and the food listed above, the bill came to $232 after tax.  I had to look twice, as this was more money than we had spent on any meal since our last visit to Komi, and far from extravagant or particularly satisfying food. At this price point, I can't possibly see us coming back here, but again maybe we just don't like this style of cuisine or we could have ordered better (cold crudo on a 40 degree night, yes that's my bad).  I'll be interested to see how this place does over the years, as it really is huge, very expensive, and in the hot new high-rent district of DC.

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I took the kids to the Wharf yesterday for brunch.  Our choices were between Kith & Kin and Del Mar.  In the end, Kith & Kin looked just a tad more interesting (actually, Del Mar looked rather uninteresting, and Kith & Kin was more kids friendly).

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20 hours ago, DPop said:

For our main, we got the Arroz Negro de Calamares en su Tinta. I should note here that we have had paella and arroz negro many times on trips to Spain and at restaurants in the US.  We have had a couple versions that we really liked, but we often feel underwhelmed by these types of dishes.  Maybe we don't love paella (or Spanish food in general)?  I'm not sure, but I figure that I would point this out before saying that we were massively disappointed in this dish. It came out and was plated well by our waiter into large portions along with a side of lemon and, yet again, aioli.  I asked the waiter about the aioli, to see if there was a particular way to eat the arroz with it as I have never seen it presented this way.  He said that it was how "everybody" ate the dish, which confused me because I have had paella in Mallorca and Barcelona and have never seen it come with any sort of mayo substance.  Is this normal?  Again, I took the bait and put a dab of it on the side of my plate, dipping a bit of calamari and black rice in to take a taste.  No.  I can't believe that "everybody" eats this dish this way, as it became gooey and added nothing to the flavor palate.  I ignored it for the rest of the meal, but again I must not be getting it, because I found the arroz to be bland and rather uninteresting, even with a copious amount of lemon squirted on top.  Also, the calamari was somehow grilled and very chewy on the outside, but slimy and wet on the inside, combining both ways that I don't like my calamari cooked into one bite somehow. We were starving, but both of us still left a lot on our plates, as this just did not work for us on so many levels.

I can just imagine the eye rolling that this comment will cause (and probably well deserved), but... I was watching the Beat Bobby Flay episode the other day where he and Garces both cook paella.  Now I'm with you in that I've never seen aioli on a paella, but both chefs independently had an aioli component and commented that its part of standard paella.  So while not ubiquitous, apparently its 'a thing.'

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4 hours ago, genericeric said:

I can just imagine the eye rolling that this comment will cause (and probably well deserved), but... I was watching the Beat Bobby Flay episode the other day where he and Garces both cook paella.  Now I'm with you in that I've never seen aioli on a paella, but both chefs independently had an aioli component and commented that its part of standard paella.  So while not ubiquitous, apparently its 'a thing.'

The Rossejat at Jaleo is the only time I've seen aioli on a paella-type dish in the area.

I distinctly remember because I scraped it all off. Ick. Good dish other than that.

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Spaniards love an aioli on just about anything. 

When I studied abroad my host mother made paella once a week and served it with mayo on the side.

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Yes, what was served was most certainly not what Julien described in his post.  This was a small bowl of straight up thick, white mayo.

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For my birthday yesterday, My dear darling (DD) husband planned a day where I didn't have to make a decision which is the very best present ever.  Vermeer, (too many people) followed by lunch at Del Mar (brunch menu) and Pajama Game (enjoyable) where we were in an almost full house.

Del Mar:
3 tapas followed by a main. See below. 

DD started with Las Olas ( $8) which is a mocktail that was quite refreshing and I'd like him to try to replicate it.

In all the food was good and good looking. From the list below, our favorite was the salmon tapas because it was generous, interesting, and tasted really good as created. While beautiful, the escalivada lacks the flavor that the dish should have imported. I was looking for that classic eggplant creaminess and it was lacking. That said, it was the best looking of them all.

Another highlight was Cazuela de Bogovante which did not need the eggs. In fact, eggs detracted from what was otherwise a wonderful dish.

Now for the trite complaint: We asked for a side of bread since gambas tapa did not come with it and that lobster stew had to be sopped up. $3.50.  Not a big deal but for a restaurant to sell a $50 ounce of ham, the least they can do is provide bread with the food that cries for it.

Many dishes served to other diners looked marvelous and the view is very nice. Yet since there are so many choices down there, I am not sure we'll be back any time soon.

Andalusian Gambas al Ajillo
$18
Pink Key West Shrimp, Garlic, Arbol Chile, Parsley
Salmon Ahumado Y Pan De Cristal
$22
Chesapeake Smoked Salmon & Tomato On Crisp Catalan Bread
Escalivada
$16
Catalan-Style Char-Roasted Eggplant, Onions, Red Bell Peppers, Tomatoes ~ *V
Cazuela de Bogovante
$24
Mallorcan Style Lobster, Charcoal Baked Potatoes, Fried Local Farm Egg
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22 minutes ago, NolaCaine said:

Now for the trite complaint: We asked for a side of bread since gambas tapa did not come with it and that lobster stew had to be sopped up. $3.50.  Not a big deal but for a restaurant to sell a $50 ounce of ham, the least they can do is provide bread with the food that cries for it.

They need to change this. Was the gambas served in clay or porcelain?

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On 11/25/2017 at 8:51 AM, NolaCaine said:

Now for the trite complaint: We asked for a side of bread since gambas tapa did not come with it and that lobster stew had to be sopped up. $3.50.  Not a big deal but for a restaurant to sell a $50 ounce of ham, the least they can do is provide bread with the food that cries for it.

Trite complaint? I would have been furious.

Charging for bread with obvious dunk-able sauces is unforgivable.

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If you enjoy a good gin and tonic, the bar at Del Mar is worth a stop.  Three to chose from off the menu - Bailando (juniper and cucumber), Estrellas (Ginger, lime, cardamom and star anise) and Te Quiero (Lemongrass, rosemary, grapefruit) and at $14, not badly priced for the neighborhood.  The Estrellas brought whole cardamom pods and the anise into a large enough cocktail that I'll need to wait for the next visit to try the Te Quiero.

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we had dinner on friday night with another couple, and my overall impression is that if del mar and kith and kin are any indication, the wharf is poised to become dc's version of the las vegas strip: large, loud, expensive restaurants by big name (at least for dc) chefs that are . . . a bit underwhelming.  i was expecting expensive, but the tapas aren't special enough to justify the cost.  

we started with cocktails, which were all very good, although the menu options overall didn't have me craving a second round after our first set of orders.  my favorite was probably the contigo, a manhattan riff with bourbon, sweet vermouth, and dry sherry.  the nuez rosada was a delicious but unseasonable tikki-style mix of aged rum, almond syrup, braulio, and chocolate bitters; i would have preferred it on a rock rather than over crushed iced.  finally, we had two of the tal vez, an autumnal mix of rye, pumpkin liquer, orange, cherry, which had a nice smokey element.

the menu is somewhat confusing on first read, with many sections (raw bar, cold tapas, hot tapas, salads, etc.) and no real indication on how many dishes are appropriate per person.  after consulting our server, we ended up going with an assortment of small plates and one paella.  (the online menu doesn't seem to have everything that we ordered, so i'm reconstructing as best as i can on some dishes.)  Erizo de Mar (Sea Urchin, Marques De Valduéza Olive Oil, Piment d'Espelette) offered half a dozen or so lobes of beautiful, briny-rich urchin, but i found that the fruity olive oil overpowered the urchin flavor in my first bite.  i was very pleasantly surprised by the brightening crunch of cucumber with razor clams.  bay scallops paired nicely with little dots of sauce, including a bright lemon one.  gambas al ajillo tasted exactly like every decent iteration of the dish you've had before (although it did come with bread without our asking, and i don't believe we were charged for it).  ensalada rusa was like tasty, fancy canned tuna salad; creamy tuna overpowered the other flavors.  our meat-eating friends seemed to enjoy the jamon they ordered.  (i feel like i'm forgetting something else that we ordered, but perhaps that's a fitting reflection of our meal overall.) 

Paella de Pescado y Mariscos (Maine Lobster, Wild Calamari, PEI Mussels, Pink Key West Prawns) was the most delicious and memorable dish of the evening -- high quality seafood, of course, and well seasoned rice -- but expensive at $98 for four smallish servings.  the server did a poor job of distributing the paella into four servings, meaning that the bf got a comically small pile of rice compared to the rest of us.  (luckily for him, i shared my portion.)  i'm sure experience will solve that problem, but it was the sort of little service flub that one wouldn't expect from a restaurant that showcases paella for groups.  (we didn't order any of the large fish dishes, but something being plated tableside at the table behind us smelled unpleasantly fishy, which seemed very weird.)

service was a bit inattentive throughout the meal, from an initial wait to get someone's attention to order food to having the (too large) empty plates cluttering up the table as new dishes were dropped off to repeatedly having to ask for water refills.  at one point, the (very nice and engaging) somm cleared a few of our plates himself because no one else had come by to do it during the course of our rather lengthy conversation about the wine list.  

nothing on the dessert menu sounded exciting, so we opted for the check, which came with dry little cookies from which only one of us took more than a single bite.  i'm glad to have tried del mar, but now that my curiosity is satisfied, i'm unlikely to go back.  (fiola mare easily remains my seafood splurge of choice within this restaurant family.)

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I dined at Del Mar last night.  Most fortunate that someone had recently given me a 100 certificate and the stars aligned as a 3pm Caps game brought me to the district from Annapolis.  The space is very nice and on a frigid Sunday evening they did fill most tables on the 1st floor once.  The food was very good and service was spectacular.  Our server served us the initial portion from most of the tapas we ordered.  The shrimp were great, roasted beet salad was extraordinary,  the eggplant was great and the raw smoked sausage was very good through my wife decline the raw sausage.  Still hungry we shared a grilled Dorade which was expertly deboned tableside.

I'll definitely go back for the outdoor dining experience.  The menu can be approached many ways but I would steer clear of the cheese as we saw another table get one triangle slice for $12  which is close to 200/lb.

Parking is expensive but convenient.

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