Casa Teresa. 919 19th St., NW.
Ruben Garcia devoted much of his career to avant-garde techniques as the head chef of Minibar and Creative Director for José Andrés’s ThinkFoodGroup. At his own restaurant, Casa Teresa, he’s returning to homestyle cooking from his native Spain and drawing recipes from “the best chefs in the world:” his family’s matriarchs.
“All the traditions start at home. This is really, really humble cooking with local, seasonal ingredients and minimum touch, letting the ingredients speak for themselves,” Garcia says. The restaurant quietly opened for lunch and dinner this week inside downtown food hall the Square, which was founded by Garcia and fellow ThinkFoodGroup alum Richie Brandenburg. The name pays homage to Garcia’s great-grandmother, Teresa Espinosa Moreno, a women’s rights activist who at one point had to go into hiding to avoid persecution.
Start with pa amb tomàquet, a build-your-own version of Catalan tomato bread. The dish comes with toasted pan de cristal bread (imported par-baked from Barcelona then finished in-house) and slices of tomato to rub on top. Diners then finish it with olive oil and salt. The dining room will also have a jamón cart to slice up cured meat to order. Garcia notes that carving jamón is its own profession in Spain, so he’s hired some pros who will also teach the staff “like a carving jamón university.”
Other dishes are directly credited to family members. Garcia says he once worked for a Spanish restaurant—”I’m not going to tell you the name”—where he didn’t like the croquetas. So, he called his mom and asked for her recipe, then implemented it on the menu. At Casa Teresa, he’s continuing to serve those croquetas, which are filled with béchamel and “high-end” Amish chicken.
Garcia says some of his happiest memories growing up involved gatherings of 30 or so family members around a big table and a live fire. Casa Teresa is similarly centered around fire in the form of an oak charcoal grill, which will turn out bone-in ribeye or whole fish served family-style with green salad and fries. The menu also highlights a rotating selection of simple grilled vegetable plates, including artichokes with romesco sauce and Garcia’s aunt’s fried potatoes slow-poached in olive oil. “Teresa’s menu,” a prix-fixe family-style option, will also be available for lunch ($38) and dinner ($105).
Coming in the next couple weeks is a tapas bar with a separate menu of small bites and drinks. Barman Owen Thomson, former co-owner of tiki destination Archipelago, oversees the Square’s Atrium Bar, and is also behind the drink menu at Casa Teresa. Look for a classic Spanish gin and tonic as well as a riff on kalimotxo, a mix red wine and cola. There’s also a small selection of local and Spanish beers, vermouths by the glass, and porrons. Meanwhile, the wine menu will focus on women producers from Spain.
“My grandmother, she fought for equality,” Garcia says. “There’s a lot of female farmers and female producers that no one knows about. So I’m going to use Casa Teresa as a platform for them to shine and me to learn more.”