“One thing leads to another… and another.” So, in my last blog posting, I mentioned how I discovered Banana Blossom Bistro from a couple of customers eating in a Uyghur restaurant that I was reviewing. Well, the former was mentioned as being across from a Tapas bar in historic Riverdale, MD. Immediately that detail was well noted and stored for a future visit. Hence, recently, I made of couple of trips to this new establishment that peaked my curiosity by its favored cuisine and unexpected location. On one of the trips, a couple of friends started their meal with a Cuba Libre and a Mojito. The husband-wife team said that the drinks were quite decent, but it needed some more alcohol – I guess they deserve to make certain reasonable requests in their adult libations being first time parents. LOL
Having perused the accessible menu, we tried a variety of small-plate dishes. An order of Chicken Empanadas arrived with the pastry blistered from a serious hot fry which added to the contrast of crispy texture with the softer and moist filling that tasted well seasoned with a hint of cumin for some interest. However, another days’ order with the beef version didn’t quite hit the spot for my friend. An order of Croquetas was also placed. The crispy pieces came flat and not in their traditional cylindrical shape that I ate in Spain as a student. However, these discs were perfectly fried, tasting creamy and hints of chicken meat, accompanied by a citrusy mayonnaise that was the perfect foil that added more interest and lifted the mouth-feel.
I had spotted on one trip other customers enjoying a usual Spanish tapa – Datiles or bacon-wrapped dates, and I didn’t hesitate savoring them on the next visit. The combination was heavenly with the slightly salty crispy bacon enveloping ripe sweet dates stuffed with a cream cheese. I didn’t quite notice the stuffing as I was quite swooning over the gestalt-of-it-all and not focused on its individual elements. An order of Sautéed Mushrooms with Garlic was placed one night. The Crimini mushrooms tasted meaty due to its unique texture as they are the baby version of the Portabello, and a good dosage of garlic cooked in olive oil was the perfect flavoring agent for this fungi. A good hit of fresh parsley added it brightness to balance the boskiness of the dish.
Another Spanish usual tapa placed on a trip was Tortilla Española. It is basically an egg pie with pieces of potato and onion. The pieces came well-presented on a mini cutting board. My friends enjoyed it quite well, but my point of reference from my Spanish days was pulling me in a slightly different direction with my mind wanting more onion, softer and less souffléd egg, and a richer greasy mouth-feel from some good olive oil. An order of Spinach and Chickpeas was placed on another visit. The spinach leaves was fresh and tasted flashed cook, but I was surprised that it was under-seasoned with salt or any spice. The chickpeas suffered from the same treatment which echoed the lackluster of the dish.
Seafood is prominent in Tapas cuisine and we had a go with some of those type of dishes here. Gambas al Ajillo is a Spanish classic, and when the dish arrived, its visual appeal was already inviting. Although the shrimp was barely slightly overcooked, it was sweet and fresh, enveloped by a winey garlic sauce that was crying out for the pieces of ciabatta-like toast to be dipped into it to sop up all its goodness. Another seafood was Pan Seared Scallops. The pieces of mollusk was perfectly seasoned with a hint of Bay-like seasoning and cooked with seared ends sandwiching its moist and sweet middle. Its bed of cauliflower puree was creamy and slightly cheesy that made it the perfect “bed” partner, foiled by some rich pine nuts and sweet raisins, all napped by some rich, and unusually light, creamy sauce that did not overpower the delicate seafood.
I had caught sight of Steamed Mussels sent to a few tables, and we placed that order on one visit. The mollusks were smaller than the usual, and they were listed as wild on the menu, perhaps explaining its size and flavor. They were not overcooked, thank goodness, and they were sweet without being too mineral-like. The sauce was slightly creamy with a good hint of garlic, screaming for the pieces of the garlic toast for a dip, which we couldn’t resist that tasty combination.
A couple of meat dishes was savored during the visits. The first was Lamb Chops. The piece of meat were quite lean, fresh, and still moist even for having been cooked medium-well-done according to my partner’s request; its grilled exterior added the charred flavors that made the meat more delectable, as well as the meaty boozy demi-glace sauce that coated it. The fingerling potatoes were tasty and rounded off the dish well. Another dish was Grilled Strip Steak. The meat was indeed fresh and moist for being medium-well-done, but my palate was craving a “beefier” cut like flank or skirt steak. The Chimichurri sauce needs a revisit by the kitchen since it was too “oniony” and it needed to be tempered with some more red wine vinegar and herbs. The black beans and rice yearned for the same treatment with more seasoning, like bay leaf and sofrito, a longer boiling time, and a bit more salt.
On a couple of trips, I wanted some Spanish Churros for dessert as listed on the menu, but they were not available on both trips – what a pity. But my helpful waitress recommended Tuxedo Bombe as my final bite. The half sphere made quite an impression when it landed on the table. One bite into it confirmed its visual appearance. The outer shell was made from dark chocolate encasing layers of whipped cream and chocolate mousse sitting on a thin layer of chocolate cake. The whole mixture was a good match of the disparate elements that came together smoothly without being cloyingly sweet or too rich. The raspberry coulis was the perfect classic partner that added the necessary acid to the rich spoonfuls. However, I can’t wait to order the churros with chocolate sauce that the waitress said was a hit with the customers.
Rivera Tapas Bar is truly a great find on my levels. Firstly, they are fulfilling a culinary niche that the area yearns for which I have been complaining for quite some time. Secondly, the restaurant has shown up in an area that many have written off as a culinary oasis, especially in historic Riverdale that is starting to see a sign of revival. And lastly and most importantly, the house clearly knows how to deliver with its skillful cooking and quality ingredients at an appealing price point that would make the diner completely skip downtown DC for some fine tapas cuisine. At one hand, I want to keep this place a secret for my selfish reasons. On the other, the public deserves to discover and enjoy its scrumptious offerings.