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….



I’m generally suspicious of restaurants that boast a great view… be it on the top floor of a high-rise, revolving on a space needle or on the waterfront. With a spectacular view under their command, how hard will the operators try to produce really good food? And how much will their clientele even care about it?

But occasionally… (frequently?)…I’m wrong. Such was the case recently, with friends, family and colleagues on a Parasole culinary hunt in Washington D.C., where we dined at SALT LINE, a seafood restaurant poised along the banks of the Anacostia River near the Washington Nationals baseball park.

A celebration and marriage of New England and Chesapeake seafood traditions, this Navy Yard hotspot really hit the mark.

SALT LINE’s large outdoor dining area and bar serve up unobstructed vistas of the river. But, alas, it was pouring rain when we dined there, so we were relegated to a booth inside. That was just fine because we still had a view of the river…and we were dry. Plus, there is something about a lazy, rainy and cozy late Sunday afternoon…downing fresh oysters and other good stuff with a bottle or two of white Burgundy.

And so it began…

…with four warm, comforting, pillowy Parker House rolls (like we serve at PITTSBURGH BLUE) with ramekins of herb butter and black olive tapenade. Only they charge for ‘em… 4 bucks an order.

Joanne ordered a cold and crisp Romaine lettuce wedge with green goddess dressing, heirloom tomato wedges and toasted hazelnuts. Another member of our party had a salad of farro and crunchy lovage, crowned with a deep-fried soft-cooked egg.

We all shared a platter of just-harvested briny Chesapeake Bay oysters and razor clams filled with ceviche. I love razor clams. We couldn’t help ourselves and marched on with two plates of Salt Cod “Coddies” set in place atop a dollop of yellow mustard. Each golf ball-sized croquette rested on a single Saltine cracker. Deep-fried Ipswich Clam Bellies (not the cheap strips) also found their place on our table, along with two orders of “Stuffies” – fist-sized Quahog clam shells filled with chopped clams, lemony buttery bread crumbs and spicy Portuguese “linguica” sausage. In a nod to the Deep South, a Pimento Cheese Crab Dip rounds out the appetizers.

SALT LINE puts out serious main courses as well. One of us had the monkfish, served in a pool of green Romesco sauce. She pronounced it quite good, but to my mind it was just a little too precious for the surroundings. I prefer the less tricked-out dishes.

Two kinds of lobster rolls are offered – both loaded up with tail & claw meat ONLY. The “Connecticut-style” lobster role is topped with a hefty sprinkle of white Maldon salt flakes and comes with melted butter. I’ve never heard of Connecticut-style lobster rolls; they’re certainly not a pure play, but I’m sure they’re delicious. We, however, opted for the more traditional Maine-style version, heaped with fresh chunks of lobster tossed in homemade mayo with shallots, tarragon and cracked black pepper. Both iterations come with a choice of Old Bay Fries or a small green salad, and both were authentically served on Pepperidge Farm lobster roll buns.

On this cold and rainy late afternoon, the Portuguese Stew was a wise choice – and a hearty one, featuring clams, mussels, and bluefish in a powerfully smoky broth with fennel, cilantro, new potatoes and coin-sized pieces of chorizo. It was accompanied by garlicky slices of toasted sopping bread.

Salt Line also offers a couple pastas. One seemed a bit contrived and forced: Bucatini with lump crab, English peas, crab fat aioli, fennel and sweet corn ($25). The other pasta, while unusual, had more focus and turned out to be really good. It was Uni Carbonara (uni is sea urchin; a sorta headless porcupine). It hit all the right buttons…salty, briny, with sweet and umami notes. I thought about testing it in one of our restaurants, but I just don’t know if Minnesotans will eat sea urchin.

Desserts were headlined by a wonderful Blueberry Ice Box Cake as well as a giant three-scoop Banana Split.

But I have to say that, as good as all this stuff was – and it was good…very good – I hit the mother lode with my selection. Soft Shell Crabs were in season and they arrived at the table piping hot, crispy and crunchy, bathed in a fiery hot sauce with housemade bread-and-butter pickles, and set on two slices of white Wonder Bread toast. The dish was a clever riff on the iconic Tennessee dish, Nashville Hot Chicken. And HOT it was. It burned sooooo good…TWICE.




Several years ago, while opening the OCEANAIRE in Washington D.C., Joanne and I occasionally splurged and went to our favorite D.C. steakhouse, right downtown on K Street: THE PRIME RIB. It had a different feel than the other D.C. steakhouses like The Palm, Morton’s, Ruth’s Chris, The Capital Grille, and the now-defunct Sam & Harry’s.

The Prime Rib had a sense of luxury and sophistication that evoked a different era. This place was “Old School” the day it opened. Think New York supper clubs of the 1940s, with dark polished walls, grand floral arrangements, plush leopard patterned carpet, and a tuxedoed staff of ADULT, POLISHED WAITERS. Guests are treated to live music from a bassist and pianist softly teasing out De-Lovely Cole Porter tunes from a Steinway grand piano. Tables are adorned with crisp white linen tablecloths, and the place is typically packed with politicians, powerful lobbyists and the moneyed elite.

First, let me clear up a potential point of confusion. The Prime Rib has nothing to do with “Lawry’s The Prime Rib” restaurants. There are three Prime Rib locations. The first opened in 1965 in Baltimore. D.C. followed in 1976, and Philadelphia came sometime later. “Lawry’s The Prime Rib” restaurants have locations in Beverly Hills, Chicago, Dallas, Las Vegas.

On a steakhouse fact finding trip last week, we revisited The Prime Rib. I started to worry that it wouldn’t be quite the same. What if they’d changed the décor? Or replaced the musicians with a DJ? Or, God forbid, added Avocado Toast to the menu?

How “Old School” is The Prime Rib? Well, men are still required to wear a dinner jacket. Hell, I don’t even own a suit. Walking in wearing my Duluth Trading Company “free swingin’” flannel shirt and faded jeans, I thought I might be in trouble. But no worries: I was immediately stopped in the vestibule and politely guided to a small room stocked with about 50 black dinner jackets in all sizes. My 13-year-old grandson was also fitted with one.

Well, we couldn’t have been more pleased. Other than the prices, nothing – and I mean, NOTHING – had changed. It still felt as we remembered it. In its heart and soul, The Prime Rib is still a steakhouse, and as swanky as ever. STEAKS are STEAKS here, and MARTINIS are MARTINIS.

Here’s what is remarkable about The Prime Rib: While it’s definitely a time capsule, it doesn’t feel dated. Despite the fact that you have to wear a dinner jacket, the restaurant doesn’t feel frumpy (maybe because it’s meticulously maintained. Nothing is worn, nothing frayed). And though our waiter had worked there for several DECADES (he’d told us he’d been with the company since 1973), service was hardly fossilized.

This is the kind of restaurant where the service is utterly attentive and absolutely unobtrusive. Want your cocktail refreshed? Here’s what you do. Catch your waiter’s eye (easy to do because he’ll be watching your table from a discreet distance). Look down to your empty glass. And look back at the server. Before you know it, you’ve got yourself a fresh martini.

Yeah, dinner here can empty your wallet, but with service like that, you don’t even care.

Tom Seitsema, restaurant critic of the Washington Post, wrote, “No matter your age, you are likely to be the youngest diner in the place.” That’s not quite true, but guests certainly skew older. The advantage of that: You can actually carry on a conversation here. Not only that, we dined in a room adjacent to the one with the pianist, and we could still hear the music.

Okay, great retro vibe, fantastic service…but what about the food? ZAGAT rates it a whopping 4.6!!!!!

Our server told us that the menu is virtually unchanged since they opened, with the exception of a rotating list of nightly specials and market offerings. Which means they’ve had 50 years to get the prime rib right, to perfect the Oysters Rockefeller, and cook your steak precisely to order.

Get the bone-in filet, like I did, and it will be seared to a perfect caramelized finish. Masterfully sourced, pristinely fresh, perfectly prepared seafood (Dover Sole, of course) always delights. And naturally, your 2½-inch thick slab of roasted, medium rare Prime Rib – served with a “nest” of sinus-clearing freshly grated horseradish – is as good as it gets.

Let’s move on…

No surprises; nothing tricked up among the appetizers. My oyster-loving 13-year-old grandson started with a platter of eight big, briny, fat raw oysters – and when I say, big, I mean the largest Blue Points I’ve ever seen, so enormous he had to cut them in half to eat them. Not be outdone, our 11-year-old granddaughter wolfed down her own platter of 4 hot gigantic. cheesy and gooey Oysters Rockefeller. (My grandkids don’t look a lot like me, but boy can they eat like me.)

Clams Casino? Check. Escargot? Yup. And, of course, Lump Crab Cakes, held together only by love, not bread crumbs.

Salads are crisp and freshly made, not overly dressed, and served up on ice-cold plates with nary a spec of brown lettuce in sight.

Classic baked Lump Crab Imperial, as well as the crusty deep-fried Soft Shell Crab could have been either apps or mains. We shared both as appetizers.

On to the main event……Check out the Flintstonian hunk of Prime Rib that my friend, John, ate. He’s 6’ 4” and took half home. By the way, they’ll also grill your Prime Rib as a steak if you wish.

My filet was as simple and delicious as I’ve ever had at MANNY’S. But you can “Oscar” it as well. It’ll come topped with grilled asparagus, lump crab meat (not snow crab or Jonah crab, LUMP crab), drizzled with Hollandaise. Wretched excess? You bet!

Our friend and Parasole colleague, Tim, being Greek, couldn’t help himself and had to have the Baby Lamb Chops. Check out the supper club ramekin of Smucker’s Mint Jelly that accompanied them…right out of the jar.

Sides, while not quite Manny’s-sized (but then, whose are?), were equally good and large enough to share.

I guess that I did notice one change, after all. The Seafood classification section on the menu seems to occupy more real estate than I recall. And I’m glad that it does, as my daughter and Joanne both raved about the classic preparation of their buttery Dover Sole à la Meuniere. Grandson John attacked and devoured his Flounder stuffed with Lump Crab.

Desserts were best-of-breed renditions of the classics – Crème Brulée, Pecan Pie, Blueberry Pie, Key Lime Pie and Hot Fudge Sundaes.

From the food to the service and ambiance, the Prime Rib shows no signs of slowing down, but you have to wonder, Will its clientele age out of existence? Will a new generation of owners try to update the concept and instead just screw it up? Do yourself a favor and visit The Prime Rib while you can – because it’s at the top of its game: both a spectacular steakhouse by contemporary standards and a thrilling journey back in time.

Like Esquire Magazine says, “At The Prime Rib, it’s always 1965.”