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Restaurant Week always sounds like a magical opportunity. Twice a year, many of the city’s best restaurants open their doors to the plebeians who can’t normally afford their financially destabilizing fare. For $20, you get a three-course lunch. For $30, you get a three-course dinner. That’s three to four star dining on a half-star budget. Unfortunately, the experience doesn’t always live up to the hype. Servers and hostesses can be downright disrespectful to the invading middle-class masses. Some eateries only offer a few entree choices on their “special” menus and keep their best dishes at full price. You don’t need to be a professional eater to know that you’ve been gypped. This week, we’re breaking down our RW experiences for you.
The restaurant: Taberna del Alabardero, 1776 I St. NW, (202) 429-2200
The usual menu: Taberna del Alabardero is an old-school restaurant (read: crystal chandeliers and a crappy Web site) with classic (read: old-school) Spanish dishes that attracts diners willing to shell out upward of $30 for most entrees (read: also kind of old-school). Still, I had heard a couple of nice things about the place, which opened in 1989 in a pretty prime location, but still seemed off the radar.
The RW menu: In a word: sparse. Similar to Sushi-Ko, there were only two options for each course. First course choices: either the house salad (snooze) or purreed pumpkin with duck. The second consisted of breast of capon on potato puree or seafood (scallop, shrimp, monkfish) over rice. The third: flan or puff pastry with fresh fruit.
The sneaky little surcharges: Ordering off the limited RW menu, at least for someone with less than an old-school bank account, was not really an option, but if the choices appeal, there were really no sneaky charges, unless you count a huge wine list as sneaky.
The total cost of my meal: $64—what a deal! This takes into account tip, the waiter-recommended bottle of midprice white ($48 split three ways), the martini a friend ordered, and two after-dinner coffees. Since I loathe splitting the check in any sort of precise way that could require a calculator at the table, we just did the usual and divided it evenly.
The condescension factor: Slight, but evident. It’s clear that Taberna del Alabardero typically caters to a non-RW crowd and didn’t seem particularly jazzed to impress the riffraff to return. Service was certainly competent, but not especially friendly.
Would you go back? Definitely no. The pumpkin puree with duck, although very pumpkin-y, didn’t strike me as particularly Spanish. The seafood entree, although tasty, came with an extra mouthful of crunchy sand inside the scallop, and dessert (the puff pastry dish, since the consistency of flan reminds me of forking a plated eyeball and putting it into my mouth) was… meh. The pastry “puffed” to the thickness of a tortilla chip, which it was cut to resemble, and was topped by sad little diced kiwis and berries. Very disappointing. Of my six or so RW experiences in the past couple of years, this one was clearly the worst. The best so far: the Oval Room last year, where I had a lovely meal and excellent service. The only aspect that saved Taberna del Alabardero from being completely forgettable was the company.