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Pulpo, Spanish Tapas in Cleveland Park from the Owner of Floriana - GM Dave Hansen Replaces Billy Klein as Chef - Closed

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Visited Pulpo for the first time last night. This is a vast improvement over Tackle Box and a great addition to the neighborhood!

The interior decorator has taken this former McDonalds and really explored it as an industrial-styled space. The walls are painted concrete; the tables are dark polished wood. Their website advertises communal tables, but I didn't see any on the ground floor. There is a long bar stretching back to the kitchens with exposed piping overhead.

Pulpo boasts an nice cocktail list. I tried their pisco sour, which was not so much to my liking (much less fluffy egg white than other renditions I've had) but the watermelon-infused La Sandia de la Vida had a great funky perfumy melon flavor. Companions enjoyed the Dulce Flor and the Pulpo Picante.

We ordered a broad selection of dishes from across the menu. Highlights were the eponymous pulpo which came grilled and succulent with roasted potatoes and crisped kale; the prawn ceviche with mango; the tangy espinacas con citricos; and the brussel sprouts. The tortilla espanola was underwhelming, however. We did not try any of the red meat dishes.

The dessert menu here is not extensive and feels like an afterthought at place which obviously cares about food. We opted for dessert elsewhere.

The service was lovely; attentive, friendly, and very sweet to my son. For those that care, we ate at six with a toddler, the restaurant offers high chairs and serves milk if you ask, and tapas are great to share with a small person. He devoured the sliders and also appreciated the octopus.

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Interesting that no one else has posted about Pulpo in the past month. It's a nice looking restaurant, with friendly and helpful staff, and some very good food. Thing is, there was just nothing to inspire me to write about it. I don't mean to be damning with faint praise; we had a few underwhelming dishes (the mushrooms with garlic) but nothing bad, and several things that were excellent, particularly the cod fritters, strip loin tartare, and sea scallops with manchego foam. Four of us had a great time grazing through the menu.

One dish, though, you can't share: the ravioli trio. You can't share it because the ravioli aren't really ravioli; they're some sort of molecular gastronomy chemistry lab sort of thing, completely liquid and held together by the thickened skin of the mixture. An order consists of one beet with blue cheese, one corn with bacon, and one pea. Each is served on a spoon and must be eaten in one bite.

I am no fan of molecular gastronomy and have a pretty jaded palate; nonetheless I decided to give it a go and am glad I did. The pea ravioli, in particular, tasted like the quintessence of pea.

Like Anna Phor, we were not taken with the dessert list so we went a few doors up for a snack from Sugar Magnolia.

For me, Pulpo falls into the "happy to go back if that's what my friends want, but there are other places nearby I'd rather go to" category.

Still, I'm glad it's there and glad Cleveland Park is becoming something of a dining destination; hopefully there won't be so many restos that business for each gets thin.

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I would pretty much agree with Porcupine above. Pulpo can be solidly good, there are some delicious dishes on the menu, and some that fall flat. They say their menu is Spanish inspired -- let's just say Jose Andres won't be losing any sleep over Pulpo dethroning his Jaleo empire.

The Good

Crispy brussel sprouts

Cod fritters

Pulpo (grilled octopus)

Pork shoulder special


Patatas bravas (bravas sauce was grainy from the paprika)

Tortilla espanola (needed some salt)

Pan con tomate (almost in the good column, needed some course sea salt sprinkled on top)

Red beet salad (the beets were cut so razor thin it was almost laughable)

Grilled local vegetables with romesco (romesco was dull, the vegetables were not well grilled)

Service was friendly and enthusiastic but somewhat uneven. Not sure why it would take 20 minutes to whip up a plate of pan con tomate. But in the end we were celebrating the gf's mom's b-day and with dessert our waiter brought a birthday card signed by the Pulpo staff. And she enjoyed herself, which really is the important thing.

Pulpo isn't worth driving across town for, but if you are in the hood it's not a bad place to stop in for a drink and a few tapas.

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Funny. For some reason I thought I'd read here and elsewhere that Pulpo generally wasn't that great. A friend wanted to go tonight and my kneejerk reaction was to hem and haw, not wanting to drop the money on a place sure to be mediocre. But, friend was keen to try it so off we went as a group of three. Glad we did.


A simple headline for me might be "Good, true and reasonabiy priced." It was all of those things for us. The Washingtonian piece linked to in the OP above gives some interesting backstory. Suffice to say, the restaurant lineage of owners and chef (Floriana and others; multi-generational) is evident in the focus, value and quality.


As everyone knows who tried TackleBox, the Bandolero pop up or even the McDonalds (many years ago) here, it's a huge space. That's undoubtedly one of the challenges since the overhead and cash burn can only be sustained with consistently large crowds and pricing sensible for both customers and the income statement.

That said, I think what they did here was smart. The big dollars were spent by the Tackle Box folks since the location had been in a state of real disrepair and unoccupied for years before that. Pulpo did a low cost but attractive conversion with appropriate art, darkly painted and exposed brick and new but simple tables and chairs on both levels. TackleBox's shellfish bar is more or less still intact and from there come some of the cold dishes, including a ceviche we ordered. A serious looking espresso machine is at back by the rest rooms and the open kitchen also looks pretty similar to how it was at TackleBox.


Different from venue, the menu is a totally different deal from what preceded it. Also smart in my view. Some minor nits but on balance, we thought everything pretty well done and fairly priced. More specifically:

- Shishito peppers ($7): is this the new trendy vegetable for 2012? Feel like I'm seeing this on menus everywhere this year though when I ask about them at local farmers' market, I get funny looks. Could have used a bit more salt but nicely charred and tasty. A good sized portion for the money.

- Champinones w/ Garlic ($6): Simply roasted mushrooms with whole roasted cloves of fresh garlic, maybe some oil and seasoning. Very good and, as with most items tried, a good deal.

- Tortilla or Spanish Omelet ($6): Maybe too much potato relative to egg but not bad and generously sized. Served with a toast point and an aioli of some kind. This wouldn't compete with anything in Barcelona or Madrid and I like the versions at Estadio and Jaleo better. But this was respectable and very well priced.

- Pan Tomate w/ Anchovy and Jamon Serrano ($11). One of the less successful dishes. In Spain, the bread would be charred over open flame and rubbed with a freshly cut tomato. This bread wasn't sufficiently toasty and seemed to have a salsa spread on top. Pricing fine with $2 or so upcharges for the two proteins we ordered. Four wedges of bread. Just okay at best. Wouldn't recommend.

- Ceviche Trio ($12). Made with shrimp, tuna and scallop, this was surprisingly good. Nothing revolutionary in preparation but good quality fish nicely 'cooked' with citrus and then well seasoned with salt, cilantro and not sure what else. For the money, another winner.

- Pulpo ($12). Octopus dishes in America are usually won or lost based on ingredient quality and doneness. More often than not, for one or both reasons, they come out rubbery or tough. This was neither. A nice portion of perfectly tender and toothsome octopus with good seasoning. Really enjoyed it.

- PEI Mussels ($10). Maybe the star of the night. Really surprised (though maybe shouldn't have been) how good this was. The broth was nuanced and delicious, perfect for dipping bits of bread served with it. The mussels themselves were excellent, plump, fresh and perfectly steamed and seasoned with plenty of garlic and wine. Crumbled chorizo (larger and more interesting texturally than the more common small squares or cubes) was a wonderful accompaniement. Maybe a bit crazy to some but I think these were better than any I've had at Mussel Bar in Bethesda.

- Hangar Steak with Chimichurri ($14). Good portion of flavorful steak seasoned just with sea salt and cooked perfectly to medium rare. The chimichurri, on the other hand, was wacky. Though there are many variants of chimichurri across latin america, good ones are always herbaceous, garickly and very well seasoned, and usually with a bit of heat in the form of red chili pepper or whatever else. This one wasn't really any of those things, tasting somewhat creamy and sweet. More reminiscent of a warm green goddess dressing than a chimichurri. But the steak was very nice and with enough flavor to make the dish enjoyable without the mystery green sauce.

- Rice Custard ($8). This was maybe the only thing ordered I'd call overpriced. But that's because it wasn't very good as opposed to the $8. I'd asked whether it was close to a rice pudding and ordered it when told it was. It tasted as if had been sitting a long time. Topped with a strange ground nut of some kind and then just too chewy. Undersized portion in a martini glass. Left most of it.


Our group wasn't in agreement on service. I thought it fine if a bit inconsistent. My two dining companions were more harsh in their assessment. Courses were all served in reasonable sequence and timing. I'd arrived late and missed some kind of lecture delivered to one of my companions about ordering a drink at the bar. Not entirely sure. My view is service was fine and didn't distract from the meal.


I"m more less in agreement with Anna, Porcupine and Tweaked. Pulpo surprised me in a positive way. Most of the dishes were simple but quite good. I agree it can't be called a destination restaurant but it may be close to the best value in tapas in the city if not the best. With a glass of wine and all the above, our bill came to just under 100 pre tax and tip.

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I only stopped in here solo last week for a quick bite, so my impressions are limited. The aforementioned brussel sprouts were as good as advertised (although they could have used a touch less sweetness in the sauce; the last couple of bites were cloying). The pulpo was perfectly servicable, but honestly nothing to write home about. I prefer a good amount of char which was lacking. The texture was otherwise right on. The best part about this place may be the happy hour deals: 1/2 off drinks until 7:30 on weekdays.

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We had a Groupon about to expire so we gave Pulpo a second try on Saturday night. I really would like to like this place. It's a nice space, the potential is there for a casual mid-week meal or a fancier weekend night out with friends. However, the cooking is very uneven and some of it dreadful mediocre.

We enjoyed the pan con tomate with white anchovies. Although I would agree with above that the bread appears to be toasted and I would prefer it grilled and for some reason it takes forever to come out. We put in an order for the pan right when we sat down, took our time over the menu, placed our food order, had a drink, and two of our tapas came out before the pan arrived. Like a good 20-30 minutes had gone by. We had the same problem our first visit, hence why we put in the order immediately when we sat down. It seems odd that toast with some tomato and anchovies on top would take so long.

The Pulpo was good again, nice char, packed with smoky flavor, not quite as tender as last time, but it had a pleasant toothiness, without being chewy.

The rest was boardline terrible.

Champinones con Ajo - The mushrooms desperately needed some salt...like not a grain of seasoning at all. No flavor of garlic, all sitting in a flavorless jus. Otherwise the mushrooms were nicely cooked.

Espinacas con Citricos - A bowl of plain blanched spinach. No citricos flavoring at all.

Haricot Vert - Some blanched green beans, with maybe one fingerling potato worth of potato chopped up into four slices. The promised pedro vinegar seemed to be absent.

Honestly, at this point, if someone asked me about dining at Pulpo, I would steer them to some place else.

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We enjoyed the pan con tomate with white anchovies. Although I would agree with above that the bread appears to be toasted and I would prefer it grilled and for some reason it takes forever to come out. We put in an order for the pan right when we sat down, took our time over the menu, placed our food order, had a drink, and two of our tapas came out before the pan arrived. Like a good 20-30 minutes had gone by. We had the same problem our first visit, hence why we put in the order immediately when we sat down. It seems odd that toast with some tomato and anchovies on top would take so long.

I never got around to posting about our one visit to Pulpo a few months back, but your review is pretty similar - some food was ok, some was meh - but the most memorable part of all was this super-long illogical waits for food. I appreciate that the restaurant isn't fast food, but for a 20-40 (yes forty) minute wait between small plates is crazy. I had hoped they sped up their service or we had an off night, but looks like they are still having problems.

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