Food

The Tapas at Pamplona in Clarendon Are Gorgeous

Take a first look at the Basque restaurant, opening next week.
Pamplona opens in Clarendon with ambitious Spanish fare from chef James Martin (pictured: Serrano ham with olive oil ice cream). Photography by Evy Mages

Tapas-style plates are everywhere in Washington, but ambitious Spanish restaurants are much scarcer. Pamplona, which opens in Clarendon on January 12, falls in the latter category. Chef James Martin recently departed his executive chef role at Restaurant Nora to team up with the Social Restaurant Group for a Basque-style eatery; the restaurateurs are also behind DC’s Provision 14 and the Prospect.

Pan con tomate consists of homemade bread and tomatoes Martin canned over summer.
Pan con tomate consists of homemade bread and tomatoes Martin canned over summer.
Three styles of paella are served by the pan, including this seafood variety.
Three styles of paella are served by the pan, including this seafood variety.

Pamplona is Martin’s first foray into Spanish cooking after stops at a number of high-end kitchens like Bistro Bis and Bourbon Steak. During his honeymoon in Spain, he began to see resemblances between Spanish cusine and the Southern food his family made.

You have beans, rice—my dad cooked it every day—ham. I grew up on ham hocks,” says Martin. “People say ‘You’re not Spanish!’ Look at what Rick Bayless did for Mexican food in Chicago, and he’s from Ohio.”

Razor clams are served escabeche style with Valencia orange vinaigrette.
Razor clams are served escabeche style with Valencia orange vinaigrette.
Try traditional cured tuna called "mojama" that's made at Pamplona.
Try traditional cured tuna called “mojama” that’s made at Pamplona.

The menu blends traditional and modernist touches—think Serrano ham with capers and olive oil ice cream—and a localist approach carried over from Nora. All of the breads are made in-house. Martin spent the summer preserving tomatoes for pan con tomate, and pickling 40 pounds of padron peppers from Pennsylvania. He also cured his own mojama—traditionally cured and sun-dried tuna from Spain—that’s paired with cider-Campari bonbons.

In addition to tapas, diners can order entree-size plates such as lamb with chickpeas, spinach, and Catalan salsa verde.
In addition to tapas, diners can order entree-size plates such as lamb with chickpeas, spinach, and Catalan salsa verde.
Savory churros are made with butternut squash, truffle, and cranberry mustard.
Savory churros are made with butternut squash, truffle, and cranberry mustard.

In addition to tapas, the kitchen prepares entree-size portions such as saffron-laced paella with seafood, duck, or vegetables for two-to-three guests. Grazers will eventually find a pintxos bar where customers can try the traditional Spanish skewered snacks, and other light bites alongside Pamplona’s eight styles of sangria.

Pamplona. 3100 Clarendon Blvd., Arlington. Open for dinner only, January 12.

St. James cake, traditionally eaten during holy festivals, is made here with brown butter and Catalan cream.
St. James cake, traditionally eaten during holy festivals, is made here with brown butter and Catalan cream.

 

 

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