Can an Italian Chef’s Success in D.C. Translate Into Spanish?


The chef Fabio Trabocchi doesn’t have to work hard to get name recognition in Washington. Now he turns his attention to Spain at his new seafood-focused restaurant, Del Mar.

The whole branzino at Del Mar.CreditDel Mar

With four hot-ticket Italian restaurants around town, including the Michelin-starred Fiola, the chef Fabio Trabocchi doesn’t have to work hard to get name recognition in Washington. But can Mr. Trabocchi’s translate his success into Spanish? Judging by a recent meal at his seafood-focused restaraurant, Del Mar, which opened in November, the answer is a resounding “si.”

Located at the District Wharf, a mile-long new development set on the Potomac River, Del Mar is inspired by Mr. Trabocchi’s Spanish wife, Maria, and their home on the island of Mallorca where they spend their summers. “Coastal Spanish cuisine has been a big part of our lives together for the last 20 years, and Del Mar is a nod to that,” he said. “When we’re in Mallorca, we eat the dishes that are on the menu here.”

The dining room.CreditDel Mar

As at Mr. Trabocchi’s Italian spots, the ambience is packed and lively, and yet feels something like a mini-vacation: a bi-level nautical-themed space with an open kitchen, towering ceilings, large windows overlooking the water and hand-painted forest green tiled walls. You’ll want to linger a while and have an Earl Grey-infused gin and tonic — maybe two — at the glamorous circular bar, but soon enough the nearby seafood display of oysters and whole crustaceans flown in from Spain, New Zealand and other parts of the world will lure you to your table.

The menu is extensive, and although Spanish cheeses and charcuterie are also offered, we stuck to the star attractions. From the “Barely Touched” section, the scallop with Meyer lemon and caviar, yellow tail with ponzu sauce and fluke with raw green olives and snow peas — attractively presented in a large silver, octopus shaped ice bucket — were fresh and had the pop of spring.

From “Tapas Temporada” (Seasonal Tapas) the garlic shrimp, laced with brandy and presented in a pot of bubbling oil, was as good as the most memorable versions I’ve eaten in Spain; the steak-like grilled calamari with red peppers and onions was tender, not chewy, as grilled squid can often be.

I wanted to order the piquillo peppers stuffed with crab meat and topped with a sea urchin sauce, and my husband was tempted to get round two of the buttery scallop atop curried peas and potatoes, but our main course awaited, and I’m glad we saved some room.

The seafood paella at Del Mar.CreditDel Mar

Our server recommended that we go for one of the four seafood paellas made with the short-grain Spanish rice called bomba or pick a whole fish. The two-pound Spanish branzino had just arrived that morning, he said, and looked particularly tasty. We were sold: the simply grilled wild bass took me back to a vacation in Ibiza where I savored this same fish almost daily.

Compared with the preceding courses, dessert choices are more limited. In true Spanish style, there’s a flan, creamy and presented with a blood orange meringue, and a dairy-free house-made strawberry ice cream surrounded by a lemon-thyme compote. The cool treat was a light and refreshing finish to our short escape to the Spanish coast.

Del Mar, 791 Wharf Street SW; A meal for two, without drinks or tip, is about $90.