One of the best restaurants in DC my wife Jun and I had visited this past year was without a doubt Reverie in Georgetown. We were deeply impressed with the ingenuity of the Mid-Atlantic fine dining, and were looking forward to visit again sometime in the fall. In a cruel twist, Reverie suffered significant damage from the fire in August and had to close down with no timetable for a return. We learned back in our visit to Reverie that the chef Johnny Spero was close to opening a new Spanish inspired restaurant in Capitol Hill. When Bar Spero did finally open in September, I knew this was to be one of our must-visit places for fall dining, and finally made the trip in November. I’m pleased to report that Bar Spero is another outstanding addition to the DC dining scene and helped somewhat alleviate our pain of not being able to visit Reverie in the foreseeable future.
Bar Spero’s concept is conjured from a nightlife scene of San Sebastian in the Spain’s Basque Country. I remember back in 2015 when I visited the town how much people cared about their food, whether at a three-Michelin star fine dining establishment or casual pintxos (what the Basque people call tapas) joints. We both knew from a brief encounter with chef Johnny during our visit in Reverie that he won’t just sloppily imitate the rich culinary tradition of Spanish cuisine, and that was certainly the case with the food at Bar Spero. After starting our meal with fresh half dozen oysters, we had beef tartare with spot-on texture; the twist from the kitchen was the addition of fried potato on top that gave very lovely enhancement to the beef’s texture.
The best dish of the night for me was undoubtedly the baby squid in the Daily Card section (listing limited edition dishes that can sell out quickly; if you want to have a memorable meal at the restaurant, don’t hesitate to try at least a few from this list). We’ve certainly had our share of delicious grilled baby squid, but the texture of the one from Bar Spero was just otherworldly that I think I could’ve just had one meal all day with this beauty alongside some cold beer or crisp white wine. For main dish, we shared a giant whole turbot with cod dashi emulsion, another outstanding item from the menu, with balanced flavor and impeccable texture of the fish. For dessert, if it is available for the night, don’t skip the burnt cheesecake ice cream. We found it in the limited-edition Daily Card section and both agreed that it should be a permanent part of the menu for its delightfully sweet flavor.
If you are willing to avoid the peak-dinner hours or to plan a few weeks in advance, getting a reservation at Bar Spero won’t be too difficult given the size of the restaurant. Unlike the more austere, Scandinavian décor of Reverie, Bar Spero is more casual in its atmosphere, making itself amenable for variety of occasions from casual dinners to date nights. The restaurant has full bar with a fairly extensive wine list from all parts of the world that would go well with all the delicious food. After Reverie’s closing, chef Johnny started doing a pop-up event at Minibar, so we wasn’t expecting to see him at the restaurant during our visit. Fortunately, he was at the kitchen that night so we were able to catch up with him for a few minutes. As always, chef Johnny showed how excited he was for his new eponymous spot and how much he longed to re-open Reverie. We could tell that the passion and dedication he had toward his craft was all over the memorable dishes at Bar Spero. We can’t wait to go back to the restaurant in the near future to try more dishes at the restaurant. It is one of the best new openings this year in DC’s thriving dining scene.
KenScale: 8.5/10 (Jun’s Score: 8.5/10)
Address: 250 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20001
Reservation via Resy