I was a kid, still in school. The year was 1958 and the Canadian distiller and Seagram heiress, Phyllis Lambert, had just witnessed the completion of the soaring, Mies Van de Roe-designed Seagram Building, at the corner of Park Ave and 52nd Street in New York City.

A year later THE FOUR SEASONS restaurant opened there. It was designed by the influential architect, Philip Johnson (best known to Twin Citians as the man who gave us the IDS Center).

The spectacular space was ahead of its time. So, too, was the food philosophy of its owner, Joseph Baum. Before anyone was talking about seasonal food, local sourcing, or farm-to-table cuisine (this was years before Alice Waters revealed that notion to California), Baum introduced what he called New American Cuisine, which was predicated on quality, freshness and seasonality. Mimi Sheraton, who later became the New York Times food critic, and James Beard were menu consultants.

The restaurant was a magnet not just for New York’s A-Listers, but for the global elite. To cite a few: The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Jack and Jackie (although not together…hmmmm?), Sophia Loren, and a young Henry Kissinger (who’s reported to have always ordered the $40 truffle-strewn baked potato). In later years, Martha Stewart, Princess Diana, Tina Brown and even the Dalai Lama and his saffron-clad entourage frequented the restaurant. The table-hopping was discreet…no lingering…almost orchestrated, like a ballet.

We’ve all heard the term “Power Lunch.” Esquire magazine coined it in reference to the Four Seasons in 1979. This was the place where book deals were signed, decisions made, and mergers were negotiated. Potentates plotted and planned. Business victories were celebrated, marriages were made and ended here.

The main action took place in the Pool Room, an absolutely breathtaking space with 22-foot-high ceilings and a white marble-clad 20-by-20-foot pool, dead center. The pool’s four corners were anchored by trees that honored the menu offerings and changed with the season. The other dining room, The Grill Room, boasted the same high ceilings and lustrous walnut walls, but it was definitely a step down. I’ve heard it said that the Grill Room was a country club; the Pool Room, a cruise ship. 

During the mid-1970s, I was traveling to New York on a regular basis, about every other week. Knowing my deep interest in food and restaurants, and feeling sorry for the deprivation I endured as a native of the “fly-over” Midwest, my Big Apple clients enjoyed taking me to New York’s newest and finest dining destinations, including legendary restaurants like Lutece, La Caravelle, Quilted Giraffe, Tavern on the Green, 21 Club, and Le Cirque.

So it was on one of my first trips that I was lucky enough to be invited by a client to The Four Seasons for a drink. The square-shaped bar was centered beneath a gigantic seasonal spray of dazzling flowers, hanging from above. The lofty windows were draped with metal beads that rippled softly from a gentle breeze emanating from hidden floor vents. This midwestern bumpkin felt like he was at the center of the universe, where only important things could happen. 

Over the next few years, I went back to the bar half a dozen times. Only once did I dine in the restaurant. It was early – probably around 5:30 or 6PM – the only time we could snag a table without an impossible-to-secure reservation. The host guided us to – and through –the see-and-be-seen Pool Room to “Siberia”: the ass end of the Grill Room.

I don’t remember what exactly we had for dinner except that there was an abundance of theater, with tableside preparations and plenty of flourishes. I also remember that it was insanely expensive.

Perhaps the restaurant was at its best when New York was at its worst – with Mayor Ed Koch trying to get a handle on the crime-ridden, crumbling and bankrupt metropolis. I don’t know if folks realize how much the Four Seasons must have meant to the city during those troubled times.

Servers, formally attired in Tom Ford tuxedos, served specialties like Long Island duck for two, deftly carved tableside ($150!). Sole Meuniere, deboned before your eyes, set you back $95, but was worth a visit for that alone. Other signature dishes included black bass ceviche ($35), crab cakes ($64), hand-carved roast lamb ($65), sea urchin ravioli, chocolate souffle, a chocolate/salted caramel tart, and a $38 tuna burger. Regulars were treated with a touch of whimsy….a basketball-sized cloud of pink cotton candy delivered at the end of their meal. The guests loved it, and their ratings were reflected in the Zagat Guide’s perennially stellar ratings for the food.

I don’t know for sure, but as good as the cooking was, the menu may not have even been the point. Perhaps the Four Seasons was, first and foremost, a stage for superstar luminaries.

But all stars fade eventually, and beginning in the late 1990s, the Power Lunch had begun to lose its luster. Over the next two decades, formal, stratospherically expensive cuisine was long past its “use by” date. People had just stopped eating that way, and the Four Season’s clientele had moved on. To make matters worse, Julian Niccolini, the affable and gracious host and partner, was very publicly accused of multiple sexual allegations about the same time that the Me Too movement was gaining traction. Women ignored the place.

And so, after 57 years, the landlord declined to renew the restaurant’s lease.

New investors, however, promptly stepped in. Probably buoyed and maybe a little starstruck by the name, they ponied up over $30 million to build a new Four Seasons a few blocks to the south.

Now, let me pause for a little “inside baseball” wisdom. The rule of thumb is that sales need to double the investment in order for your restaurant to succeed. So do the math: Invest $30 million, you better do $60 million in sales.

Guess what?

The new Four Seasons permanently closed in June of 2019, less than a year after it opened.

The New York Post, in article entitled “Why the Four Seasons Revival Never Had a Chance,” commented that even though $30 million was spent, and despite bringing aboard a talented chef with a pedigree that included Le Bernardin, the restaurant was doomed. The new space didn’t have the drama and grandeur of the Seagram Building. The décor was tasteful and pleasant, but ceilings were low and the dining rooms lackluster. The place felt like a feeble imitation of the original. But the real problem was that the restaurant’s time had passed. People just didn’t show up. The kind of dining experience was no longer relevant to them.

As it says in Ecclesiastes 3: 1-22, “For everything there is a season…a time to be born, a time to die.”

RIP, Four Seasons. You were significant. You important. You were meaningful. You were good.

You had a LARGE LIFE.

WTF, Phil

Blog Schedule Change

With the busy fall season fast approaching, my upcoming heavy travel schedule and my wish to just spend some personal time … I’m going to temporarily publish WTF with Phil Roberts every other week instead of every week.

The good news is that I’ll be gathering a treasure trove of new and exiting material.

See you next week!



It was July. And it was hotter than hell. We were in France last month when the temperature reached 114 degrees, a record high for the country.

Luckily, we happened to be in Nice at the time, where a prevailing soft breeze from the Mediterranean made the temperature endurable. Still, the air was hot, heavy and humid. And in weather like that, just about the only lunch dishes that appealed were salads.

This being Nice, that meant Salade Niçoise (“the finest summer salad of all,” according to celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay).

Now, I thought I knew a lot about the dish. After all, we feature a great Salade Niçoise right here at SALUT. And over the years, I’ve encountered endless versions and perversions of it. Salade Niçoise Pizza, anyone? What about a Niçoise Burger? 

As for the salads, sometimes they’re tossed, other times carefully and artfully composed. Occasionally they’re deconstructed. One was crammed into a jar and subjected to vigorous shakes before the server emptied the contents on my plate.

On this most recent trip, what caused me to snap to attention was my first Salade Niçoise in Nice. It arrived without green beans or new potatoes – just anchovy, tomato, egg, canned Ventresca belly meat tuna, and little black Niçoise olives.” A grande deception!!!

But it didn’t stop there. None of the Salades Niçoise that I ordered in Nice (probably six to eight) came with green beans or potatoes.

I had to find out why.

After a little investigation, I learned that I was the idiot….  (well, maybe not an idiot….but unaware of a longstanding controversy on just this topic.).

For decades, French culinarians have divided themselves into two camps (we’ll call them the Traditionalists and the Innovators) regarding what ingredients should or should not be included in a Salade Niçoise. It’s reported that in the early nineteenth century, the salad simply consisted of fresh tomatoes, anchovies, hard cooked egg and olive oil. Hewing to this recipe, Traditionalists like the French politician and cookbook author Jacques Medecin said, “NEVER, NEVER, I beg you, include boiled potatoes in your Salade Niçoise.”

It would appear that the traditionalists have prevailed in Nice, but everywhere else the Innovators have gained the upper hand, trampling tradition by adding red peppers, artichoke hearts, shallots, red onion, garlic, and basil – even shrimp – not to mention the evil green beans and new potatoes.

Then again, green beans and potatoes were good enough for Auguste Escoffier, the father of classic French cuisine. Likewise, the esteemed French chef and restaurateur Helene Darroze endorsed a more modern version when she posted a potato and bean-laden recipe online. Reaction to her post was swift and severe, however. Purists called it a “MASSACRE OF THE RECIPE…A VIOLATION OF ANCESTRAL TRADITIONS!”  In response, Darroze acknowledged that “It’s dangerous to innovate.”

So the first big battle line was drawn: potatoes and beans, “Oui” or “Non?”

But there’s a second battle, too. This one concerns the tuna: Should it be fresh or canned?”

At Salut, we use grilled fresh tuna. Cookbook author Jacques Pepin also falls into the Innovator camp, though he prefers sautéed fresh tuna.

On the other side is legendary New York Times food critic Mimi Sheraton, who wrote that “Salade Niçoise with fresh tuna is a travesty and if you like it, YOU ARE WRONG!”

To round out the tuna wars, Guilliano Hazan, the son of Marcella and Victor Hazan, writes, “Fresh tuna cannot compare with the irresistible flavor of good Mediterranean tuna packed in olive oil. People who think that they can improve a Salade Niçoise by using fresh tuna instead of EVOO-packed canned tuna are making a big mistake.”

Well, there you have it. Experts disagree.

My opinion? I prefer the canned. But I don’t think that most Minnesotans would necessarily agree. My belief is that our population has been profoundly imprinted by Starkist and Bumble Bee for all too many years and even though the canned product Hazan recommends is Ventresca tuna belly meat (the sushi-grade tastiest part of the fish, delicate and buttery) many people would consider it a step down…just because it’s canned.

But really, there are no bad answers. If you use high-quality ingredients, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with Maldon salt, your Salade Niçoise will be delicious even if you feel the need to make it in a jar.




Earlier this summer, Joanne and I had the opportunity to revisit one of our favorite Paris restaurants: LE RÉCAMIER. Situated in the 7th Arrondisement on the Left Bank of the Seine, it’s a short stroll from the Bon Marché department store (site of Paris’ best food hall), and just across the street from the Hotel Lutetia (home in 1940 to the commanding officers of the German occupation forces).

Le Récamier was named after the early nineteenth century socialite, Juliette Récamier. Said to be a stunning flirt who operated a conversational “salon” in her home, she entertained the crème de la crème of Parisian society, including single ladies and not-so-single gentlemen. Politics and literature were discussed, and it has been reported that mistresses could be found and exchanged under her watchful eye. I am reminded (and I paraphrase) the quote by Claude Raines (Captain Renault) in the film Casablanca: “I’m shocked, SHOCKED to find that ****** is going on here!”

Charming and chic (but not fancy, pretentious or crazy-nuts expensive), Le Récamier attracts more than its share of celebrities. They range from diplomats and heads of state (Jacques Chirac, Michelle Obama and her daughters) to film stars like Gerard Depardieu, Catherine Deneuve, Gwyneth Paltrow and Ron Howard.

The interior ambiance is tasteful and the seating comfortable, but on a nice day or a balmy summer evening reserve one of the 45 outdoor tables. We recommend #16 and #280, but actually there are no bad options. Alert: the restaurant is closed on Sundays.

What distinguishes Le Récamier, however, isn’t its design, but its menu, which is all about SOUFFLÉS – wonderful soufflés, extra-gooey, melt-in-your-mouth soufflés. They’re intensely flavorful, creamy, perfect puffs, light as air.

Wrote Vogue magazine: “Le Récamier…salty or sweet? This hidden gem has the best soufflés in Paris.”

The term “soufflé” translates as “to breathe, to inflate, to puff.”  Earliest iterations appeared in the 18th century, and to this day the recipes appear not to have changed much. They’re either savory or sweet, and all involve eggs and room-temperature beaten egg whites. I’ve been told that they are pesky little devils to make, that there is no room for error, and that when ready, they wait for no one. Five minutes out of the oven and they’ll fall. Oh, and DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN ‘TIL THEY’RE DONE!!! 

Hmmm, I just wonder – because when I peeked into the kitchen, the chef had the oven door wide OPEN with five or six soufflés baking away.

Is this, perhaps, a SACRED COW that needs to be SLAIN? We’ll soon find out. I’m gonna test the notion at Salut.

Now, there are a few – but only a few – non-soufflé items on Le Récamier’s menu. One could begin, as I did on one occasion, with foie gras. But…I could have a foie gras soufflé as well. For a main course, I observed a guest eating Steak Frites au Poivre. But he could just as easily have ordered the Boeuf Bourguignon Soufflé.

Other soufflé choices that we’ve enjoyed include mushroom, four cheese, spring pea, broccoli, asparagus and escargot (our adventuresome grandson had that).

The day we visited, fresh seabass was the featured special, along with a gorgeous version of a lobster roll. Both looked good, but heck, you’re at a SOUFFLÉ restaurant. Get a seafood soufflé for God’s sake. They’re offered in varieties including smoked salmon with dill sauce, crawfish, or lobster ($28.50 euros; the priciest item on a menu where entrees average $22-24 euros).

On to dessert….

Even though we shared a cheese plate, each of us indulged in our own personal dessert soufflé. They’re slightly smaller than entrees and will run you between $14-15 euros.

Le Récamier is respectful of the seasons, and changes out its menus quarterly. Once in October, I had a wonderful spiced pumpkin soufflé. Berry versions abound in summer – strawberry, apricot, blueberry and raspberry, among other options.

Whatever the season, you must order Le Récamier’s three signature dessert soufflés, which are available year-round. Don’t get just one of them. Get all three:

THE CHOCOLATE SOUFFLÉ.  No skimping here. The chocolate is 70% Valrhona premium chocolate.

THE GRAND MARNIER SOUFFLÉ.  This deeply rich vanilla rendition with orange zest whipped into the egg whites is topped tableside with a healthy dose of Grand Marnier.

THE SALTED CARAMEL AND SALTED BUTTER SOUFFLÉ.  Punctuated with deep, dark Valrhona chocolate sauce.

You can, and we did, craft a three-course meal of soufflés. NO REGRETS.

Which isn’t to say there aren’t hazards on the menu (a Cheeseburger Soufflé is  offered).

You may also regret the fact that Parisians appear to be treated better than tourists at Le Récamier. But WTF, they’re French and you’re in Paris. What do you expect?




It was back in the Figlio days when tapas first got on my radar screen, and small plates have been a fixture at our restaurants ever since. So it was that on our most recent trip to Europe, we included Barcelona on the itinerary. The fact that we had grandkids in tow made the destination all the more compelling. They’d never been to Spain, and I wanted to be the one to introduce them to its most vibrant city.

Naturally we took in the significant sights, particularly the Antonio Gaudi masterpieces, including the still-unfinished LA SAGRADA FAMILIA (under construction for 137 years; latest projected completion date 2032), and CASA BATTLO, with its façade of undulating, vine-like shapes punctuated with pieces of colorful glass and broken ceramic tiles.  Visits to the Picasso Museum and the Joan Miro Museums filled our culture quota so that we could focus on the real reason for the trip: Barcelona’s incredible food.

First things first: A visit to LA BOUQUERIA, perhaps the most impressive food market on the planet. Joanne and I have strolled many wonderful markets and marveled at the stunning colors, presentations, mouth-watering displays and presentations from the vendors.   And the sights here are almost in a category of their own. Still, I always walk away with a small sense of dissatisfaction, borne of being unable to buy any of the offerings for a scrumptious dinner. No kitchens in our hotel rooms.

On occasion, I’ve also felt somewhat unwelcome by the vendors, who have to deal with throngs of tourists invading their domain, taking pictures, crowding the aisles, and then NOT BUYING ANYTHING.

Well, I have to tell you that since I last visited the Bouqueria, the vendors have figured out how to take advantage of visitors like me.

Fish mongers who sell whole turbot, flounder and lobsters to the locals now offer busloads of tourists fresh oysters by the piece as well as handheld little paper cones filled with everything from shrimp to calamari. The meat and sausage merchants offer cups of salamis and paper-thin slices of black-hoof Iberico ham, all at about $6 – $7. The fruit and produce folks sell eye-popping cups of fresh fruit. It was oppressively hot and humid the day we visited, and Joanne and I both fell for the chilled watermelon.

Since this was just before lunch, I got thinking, Hmmm, today these are my TAPAS.

And tapas we did….all week long, all along LA RAMBLA (a major pedestrian thoroughfare), for lunch and dinner.

One thing to note: La Rambla isn’t the only street of its kind. You can escape the crowds by heading a few blocks north to the RAMBLA DE CATALUNYA. It’s cleaner and less crowded than La Rambla, but still offers endless blocks of restaurants, each with a tapas menu. Plus, the shopping is better.

We dined at many of the restaurants and tapas bars that are known specifically for their creativity, frisky sauces and varieties of tapas, and discovered that there is a sort of hierarchy among tapas.

At the base you’ll find the workhorse offerings, which populate nearly every menu, from dives to fine dining establishments. Among them:

PAN CON TOMATE:  toasted bread, garlic, olive oil, salt and crusted tomatoes.

PATATAS BRAVAS: roasted potatoes, always with mayo and spicy, smoky tomato sauce.

SAUSAGES: Including Butifarra, a mild white pork sausage, often served with garlicky white beans in olive oil; Morcilla, a blood sausage invigorated with sautéed onions; and of course Chorizo, fermented, cured and smoked, often bathed in honey and red wine.

ENSALADA RUSA: Russian potato salad with peas, carrots, capers and beets, sometimes with tuna.

CROQUETTAS: Small mashed potato balls loaded with ham, smoked cod, cheese or lobster, deep fried.

MONTADITOS: Little sandwiches (often open-face). Anything goes here.

GARLIC SHRIMP: Garlic, olive oil, hot peppers, garlic and more garlic.

GILDAS: Anchovies, olives and peppers impaled on a toothpick.

GRILLED OCTOPUS: Available in many wonderful versions.

CHIPIRONES: Deep-fried squid and baby cuttlefish, frequently accompanied with squid ink.

ALBONDIGAS: Little meatballs; could be beef, pork or veal, or a combo of all three.

TORTILLA DE PATATAS: Omelet with potatoes, most always served in wedges.

PAELLA: A tapas for sharing. Our favorite was the seafood version with clams, mussels and head-on shrimp. Be sure to ask your server for the SOCARRAT: the scorched rice crust that forms on the bottom of the paella pan.

There are undoubtedly many more dishes that fit in the workhorse category. And beyond those offerings is an entire universe of more creative tapas – thinking person’s tapas, big-flavored sometimes lyrical, often witty, never bland.

So I’ll stop here for now and ask you simply to stroll through the images. Read the captions and salivate as appropriate.

And some with ingredients that we probably should not talk about. That universe is so grand that your overfed blog writer cannot cope.




Among the many joys of dining in France is that every decent bistro or brasserie can be counted on to offer simple, but profound pleasures: local red wines by the carafe; perhaps a small slab of foie gras and onion jam; a garlicky order of escargot with proper French bread to sop up the garlic butter; and of course the popular, ubiquitous Steak Frites. Each restaurant will put its own spin on this classic dish, but generally they’re distinctions without a difference.

Most all the meat cuts are what the French call “Butcher’s Steaks” – steaks that do not come from the pricey upper middle part of the steer (the short loin, home of filets, porterhouses, and sirloins), but instead are cut from the more affordable front and hind quarters that give us the muscle meats.

The steaks typically weigh in at 250kg, or around 8 ounces. They go by various names – bavette, coulotte, flank, teres major and, the most prevalent, the “onglet.” We know it as the hanger steak in America, and that’s what we use at SALUT. Moreover, we do the fries the same way the French do – double frying, first at a lower temperature, and then at a higher temperature.

Now, not to be unkind, but the grass-fed French cuts tend not to be overly tender. They’re a little less marbled. Don’t get me wrong: They’re still delicious, and are a lot cheaper than the cuts from the short loin.

So last week, while researching the culinary charms of Paris, Joanne and I discovered ROBERT ET LOUISE, a tiny place in the Marais that is dedicated to the proposition that “Steak Is King” – and not in the steak frites way. Here, thick, juicy slabs cut from the short loin are on offer. They likely come from the French “Charlois” steer, a mountain of a beast bred solely for its superior quality meat. R&L grills its steaks in a fireplace over a wood fire, right in the dining room – and, in our case, right next to our table. You’ll find it at 64 Rue Vielle du Temple.

The theater and the aromas were PRIMAL. They were compelling and convincing. They said something you don’t need to speak French to understand: “This is THE place for steak in Paris.”

Joanne and I have indulged in this sort of experience only once before and that was when our daughter, Jennifer, was working near Geneva, Switzerland and took us to dinner at AUBERGE DE DULLY in the hamlet of Rolle. It’s still there and if you ever find yourself on the north shore of Lake Geneva….well, as the Michelin Guide would say: ”It’s worth a detour.”

R&L is small, cozy and comforting; the kind of place about which Holly Golightly of BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S might say, “It’s as if nothing very bad could ever happen here.”

And nothing bad did happen. Quite the opposite. We had a wonderful time watching the grill man flipping manhole-sized pieces of cow (as well as lamb chops) onto the white-hot cast iron plancha placed directly over the fire.

Make no mistake: This is not a MANNY’S or PETER LUGER steak. For one thing, it’s not aged beef (I’m at a loss to understand why the French don’t age their steaks; they age their wine, their game, their cheese…). But it was good – really good.

We started our journey by sharing a charcuterie platter of salamis and cured ham, accompanied by a sinus-clearing Dijon mustard and big jar of homemade sweet little gherkins. Our grandson, an adventurous eater, went for the escargot: 6 plump beauties in a bath of eye-watering, double-rich, high-fat garlic butter. It cost 8.5 euros. Not bad!

I, being an inveterate dining slut, went straight for the artery-clogging slab of faintly boozy foie gras, served up with toast points and red onion jam. To complete the round of starters, the rest of our group opted for the heart-healthy mixed green salad….BORING!

On to the mains…..

Our daughter, who avoids red meat, was delighted to find a safe harbor on the menu: Head-on Grilled Shrimp. Her son glommed onto the Duck Confit. Oddly, R&L also offers an omelette. No takers at our table, thank God. Who’d come to this restaurant for an omelette?

We ate all the iterations of the cuts of steak that they offer, including a 2-inch-thick Cote de Boeuf for two, nicely charred and caramelized on the outside, medium rare on the inside, for 48 euros. We also sampled a wonderfully fatty and boldly flavored Ribeye and a T-bone. This is not the place for the timid diner, as mondo hunks of charred beef are the clean-up hitters on this menu, which is further punctuated by take-no-prisoner sides like R&L’s generously salted potato wedges, deep-fried in duck fat.

For dessert, we shared a couple Tarte Tatins and Crème Brulées, along with platters of Roquefort, Chevre, Cantal and Reblochon cheese.

The image below, after the cheese board, is not our group, but it IS our table. Note that it’s just in front of the fire. I neglected to glean the table number, but if you go to Robert & Louise, just ask to be seated at the community table in front of the fireplace.

Steak Frites is fine and dandy in Paris.  But if you’re in the mood for Steak frites’ BIG BROTHER, then call…01-42-78-55-99.




In 2017 the Catalonian Parliament declared its independence from Spain, granting the region considerable autonomy in political, economic, educational, environmental, and cultural affairs. They are now, with eight million people, perhaps the strongest economy among all the seventeen “autonomous communities” that make up the country of Spain.

The only problem is that the Spanish Central Government said “NO” to their independence. To this day, despite multiple protests, marches, civil disruption and disobedience, the issue remains unresolved.

One thing isn’t in dispute, however: Catalonian cuisine’s stature as an ICON of Spanish gastronomy.

Consider Ferran Adria and his now-closed Michelin three-star restaurant EL BULLI, in the town of Roses just north of Barcelona. For five consecutive years, it held the title of “BEST RESTAURANT IN THE WORLD.”

That should come as no surprise as Catalonia, in the northeastern corner of Spain, is blessed not only with a grand, productive and generous Mediterranean coast line, but also fields and mountains where pigs, cattle and sheep forage, frolic and fatten up beautifully, giving chefs like Adria all the ingredients they need to practice their art.

Now here in the United States, the proliferation of nominally Spanish restaurants has diluted the idea of what constitutes a true Catalan dining experience. What we tend to have here are Spanish-American, Latin-Caribbean, Puerto Rican, Mexican, Cuban, and Dominican restaurants…all Spanish-influenced, but not actually Spanish or for that matter Catalonian.

Since Joanne and I are heading off on a Parasole culinary exploration to Barcelona next week, you can imagine our delight a few weeks ago, to discover a real “pure-play” Catalonian-leaning restaurant right here in the U.S.: DEL MAR, in Washington, DC.

Located in the wharf district, a new and magnificent $2 billion development along the Potomac, Del Mar is the real deal. The owners are Spanish, from Mallorca, and our accomplished server hailed from Barcelona.

We began, of course, with a broad selection of tapas. There were seven of us, and right off the bat our table was hit with three orders of Pan Con Tomate (tomato bread) – toasted bread, vigorously rubbed with garlic cloves and topped with crushed ripe tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil and a generous dose of sea salt flakes only to be toasted once again under a hot broiler…10 bucks an order.

Pork abounds in Spain and also at DEL MAR, where you can enjoy whole suckling pig roasted as a special order. What does not need to be special-ordered, but is indeed very special, is the Iberico Ham.

Similar to Prosciutto from Italy and Serrano ham in Spain, Iberico is one of the world’s great meats, with qualities all its own. The pigs that give us prosciutto are fed whey by the bucket (whey being a bi-product of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese production). Serrano is not aged as long as Iberico and comes from a different breed of hog. Iberico comes from heritage black-hoofed pigs that have been raised on acorns, and is aged anywhere from two to five years.

Del Mar has its own Iberico slicing station right by the entrance. Here the ham is thinly sliced with surgical precision and painstakingly arranged on what’s called a “mountain”: a porcelain dome-shaped vessel that houses a votive candle to gently warm the surface and allow the fats from the paper-thin slices to soften and give up its full-flavored porky goodness.

Croquettas, a common small plate of deep-fried mashed potato balls, are uncommonly good here. Our two selections were filled with bits of Iberico ham and salt cod brandade ($16 for three). The ham-filled croquettas were perched atop dollops of garlicky aioli and crowned with black truffles.

A parade of shrimp platters, grilled octopus, fresh oysters and Spanish cheeses followed, along with an offering known as Sobrasada, a smooth Mallorcan sopresatta-like sausage bread spread laced with hot smoked red peppers. Patatas Bravas, another popular offering, consists of new baby potatoes topped with tomato sauce or, in our case, spicy Romesco sauce, made from hot red peppers, garlic, almonds and olive oil.

The whole pan-fried fresh flounder was impressive, as was the grilled black sea bass that Joanne chose.

Grilled Lamb Chops with a Manchego cheese sauce was my selection…$38.

I have to tell you that all – and I mean ALL – our selections were hits. But first among them were the Paellas. The two we ordered were finished and served tableside in the traditional shallow pans, each a breathtaking presentation.

As Del Mar’s menu reads, “Paellas are the pillar of Spanish gastronomy…part of the Spanish soul and its people.” Del Mar offers paellas in a number of sizes, all meant to be shared. The two we ordered for the table were both show stoppers.

CHOICE #1: PAELLA DE PESCADO, redolent of the sea and loaded with tiger shrimp, lobster, mussels and calamari; made with Spanish grown Bomba rice and pungent garlic aioli ($98).

CHOICE #2: ARROZ NEGRO DE CALAMARES, harmoniously and abundantly prepared with grilled wild calamari rings and charred cuttlefish, all with black, squid ink-infused Bomba rice and aioli ($65).

We were all stuffed – satisfied pigs we were – but in the spirit of wretched excess, we dove right into the dessert selections, which included Churros filled with chocolate and hazelnuts, Flan (of course), and a delicious Galacian Almond Cake (all $13).

But the most curious thing on the menu was a dish we encountered earlier. I’m not even certain it was Spanish, and it didn’t exactly have appetite appeal, but I must admit it was intriguing: A squid burger garnished with salted anchovies and green olives, served on a black squid ink bun. I’d have expected something like this at a Burger King or McDonald’s in Tokyo, but at a “classy joint” like Del Mar, it came as a surprise.

But what do I know? Maybe Squid Burgers abound in Barcelona and I’ll have an opportunity to try them there. If so, I’ll report back to you with my verdict. Work, work, work!!!

Stay tuned….