If you’re in DC, you know who Fabio Tabocchi (or you should). Along with his wife Maria, they’re the force behind his namesake restaurant group that covers the downtown high end Italian spot Fiola, the whimsical, more affordable Casa Luca with the super talented Chef Erin Clarke at the helm, the Italian seafood wonderland Fiola Mare in the super-posh Georgetown Waterfront, the Grandmother-inspired pasta shop Sfoglina, and his newest creation, Del Mar, at the exquisitely remodeled SW DC waterfront area, The Wharf, is the best restaurant in DC.
Their website boasts:
“Del Mar is a celebration of Maria, her Spanish heritage, and the family’s traditions created and preserved at their home on the island of Mallorca. Featuring authentic seafood fare and flavors from the coasts of Spain, the robust menu includes tapas, raw bar, charcoal grilled fish, seafood stews, and a variety of rice dishes (yes, paella)!”
You can feel the love in every aspect of this place. First, the bustling circular bar is one of the first things you notice as you walk past and into the expansive dinning room guarded upon by a large fish sculpture hanging above. The plush seats feel light and airy, modern with a whimsical twist as you walk through the dinning area. The back wall is an open pass where guests can peer into the kitchen seeing their rice dishes stew, or the smoke from the charcoal grill as their langostines are perfectly, and gently, seared to perfection.
Okay, so it’s pretty. We didn’t even talk about the private rooms upstairs, each with their own theme, and their exclusive wrap around patio, and we don’t need to.
The service perfectly matches the food. Attentive to details without being overwhelming. You’ll recognize some of the best faces from former spots around DC (Le Diplomate and Tico to name a few) who flocked to work with Fabio, and they all seem genuinely eager to help navigate you through this culinary experience. What do we mean by attentive but not overwhelming? Take the seafood, simply grilled with quality olive oil and salt. Perfection. Or croquettes, often overstuffed, soggy, or drowning in a sauce are elevated with quality jamon, a light crispy exterior, and delicately topped with a black truffle slice that, while the size of a quarter, compliments, not overwhelms this playful snack. Everything, all the way down to the Spanish green olives that garnish their impeccable sliced prosciutto and jamon plates are simply enhanced with a perfectly cured anchovy.
We hesitate at the Monkfish cheeks – always one of the most flavor packed part of the fish (any animal really) – is described as “lightly tempura fried.” Why do this to such a gorgeous piece of fish we ponder aloud as we are met with “just trust us” eyes from most of the staff we are chatting with, and we are so glad we did. The light batter held such a delicate crunch as it quickly gave way to moist and tender meat. There was no batter like one typically associates with tempura from Japanese steakhouse experiences of the mid-1990s. Another perfect example of their attention to details which pays off in every single dish.
The fatty Bluefin tuna was pure perfection, enhanced with a almond-anchovy picada that gave the sweet, supple tuna the perfect salinity. The quality of the Heirloom Hungarian breed ham cured 36 months needed nothing, and the one year aged Manchego was the perfect course break.
Opting against the paella, we went with the more humble Arroz Caldoso con Carabineros, a soupy Mallorcan rice dish adorned with bright red King Prawns and swirled with Monkfish. This is easily the best rice dish we have had in the United States to date. So rich and flavor packed, yet perfectly balanced. The prawns are sweet and perfectly cooked, with the head on for those who wish to suck out all that delicious “tamale” (the fatty organ bits inside). Perfect size to split after a few other courses.
I can’t say enough about how overwhelmingly impressed I was by the decor, the maturity and excellence of the service, and the simplistic premium quality of the food. It’s not hard to see why it’s always full of bustling patrons, clearly enjoying their food as much as their company. A bright, shinning addition to The Wharf, and surely a restaurant that lives up to the homage to Maria, and the dedication of her husband Fabio.
We can’t wait to return; often and always hungry.