Seldom does a restaurant experience truly transcend the immediate location and situate you directly at the heart of the land from which the cuisine originates. Lavish decor and gourmet restaurant items often accompany the attempt at authenticity, but in the end only provide a mere distraction from the result: disappointment.
This couldn’t be further from the truth than at SER Restaurant in Ballston, the newest destination restaurant to open in Arlington. There is no facade here – what you get is the real deal in authentic Spanish cuisine presented in a perfect marriage of smaller plates and family style dishes.
The concept, brainchild of Owner Javier Candon and Chef/Owner Josu Zubikarai, was the winner of the Ballston Business Improvement District’s Restaurant Challenge and fully funded through a Kickstarter Campaign. Inspired by the classic recipes of the team’s Spanish heritage, much of the menu is a tribute to the work of their mothers, grandmothers, and even great grandmothers. SER, meaning “to be” in Spanish, also stands for ‘Simple, Easy, and Real”. Though we aren’t convinced the menu is simple or easy, we can attest that the experience is most definitely real.
Though the food warrants much of the conversation, we can’t help but relate the immediate charm of the “modern-family’ atmosphere. Rustic wood tables are contrasted with bright yellow tufted barstools. A seeming contradiction, the two are a perfect blend of Old World Spanish charm and modern luxury. I feel that the pulse of any restaurant is felt partially through their design, and no doubt SER is alive and well. Photo galleries of the team are hung on giant walls, and a long family table is the focal point as you enter through the main door, perfect for small parties intent on sitting down to a familial meal.
The menu is diverse and contains some of the more typical dishes that you would expect in a Spanish style restaurant, but in our opinion caters to the Spanish ‘foodie’ with eclectic and special items that you won’t find at many other similar establishments. We had a fantastic sampling of the “Tentepies” at the bar – appetizers that we paired with our Sherry cocktails. We indulged on the Jamon de pata negra (cured Iberico ham) – very thinly sliced straight off the leg and beyond flavorful, a variety of Croquetas (chicken & ham, codfish, and spinach) and Pan Catalana (bread with crushed tomatoes, olive oil, and garlic). I’d recommend any of the Croquetas, though the spinach was my favorite.
SER also boasts an extensive Raw Bar, which we anticipate all the seats will be filled every night of the week. A variety of oysters, mussels, shrimp, and eel await you, as well as an item I never thought I would try but thankfully did – barnacles. If you had asked me where to find barnacles I would say “the bottom of a boat”. Now, I am pleased to say you can find them at SER. Get over your skepticism and give them a shot – if nothing else, you will have tried steamed gooseneck barnacles :)
Our experience was made complete as we received a tour of the kitchen and a special tasting of a Basque delicacy at the Kitchen Counter – Kokotxas (codfish jowl, peas pipil). Not only did a fabulous story accompany the dish, but we watched how the entire plate was made complete behind the glass as Chef Josu and Sous Chef David Sierra worked their magic. We also sampled the heartbeat of the kitchen: the seafood Paella. It’s amazing the nuances that accompany well-crafted dishes, and this plate was no exception to that rule.
The highlight of the meal came with the essence of Spain in the main dining room when Chef Josu served a Cochinillo (roasted suckling pig). Though I have photos of this little guy, my mother reads the blog and would be beside herself to see Wilbur in all his roasted glory. Sadly for her, I must admit this was one of my favorite dishes and was roasted to perfection.
It was a fairy tale ending indeed when a Pineapple Crujiete landed in front of me.Having never been a fan of pineapple, I was proven wrong when I took my first bite. It was fresh and sweet and sinfully delicious.
Here is what you NEED to know:
- Good, talented people need to be rewarded for their hard work – and with that I can only hope that the team at SER finds overwhelming success upon their opening this week.
- This is the perfect date night spot for the DC foodie – lots to try that is unique and original and do justice to generations of Spanish cuisine.
- Happy Hour is a must at SER – it is offered EVERY DAY from 4-7 at the bar and family table. Look forward to sampling from their bar menu (all only $7!!) and getting the best deal on specialty cocktails (we recommend the Welcome Mr. Marshal), sangrias, wine and beer.
- The SOFT OPENING is Thursday March 5th and runs through the evening of Wednesday March 11th. At this time you will receive 20% off food for ALL GUESTS. Our advice? Get thee to SER pronto and sample as much as you can with such a fantastic offer.
- SER will cater to the lunch crowd with a sandwich bar which officially begins March 16th.
- OFFICIAL OPENING DAY: Thursday March 12th.
Congratulations on your opening SER- we wish you all the best!