Looking for a taste of Europe without the travel? Well look no further than Pamplona. This Spanish tapas hotspot serves some of the best looking dishes in the Clarendon neighborhood.
Upon entering this space, guests are immediately taken to Pamplona, Spain. The owners got their inspiration from the city of Pamplona when they actually went there and participated in the annual Running of the Bulls! The interior design is breathtaking, with beautiful floral cushioned booths, edgy frills, turquoise stenciled wallpaper with innate patterns and 155 bullheads positioned throughout the restaurant. The dim lighting in the restaurant properly sets the mood which serves perfectly for a date night.
First, the drinks. I had to indulge in their famous sangria. Pamplona is actually known for their extensive sangria list so I tried a glass of the Roja Sangria which was red wine, apple brandy, pomegranate, citrus and butters. It was incredibly smooth but a little too sweet for my palate. Blake went for a glass of the Deadly Rhythm Beer which was an American Pale Ale from Virginia. Our waiter recommended we start off with the Serrano Ham appetizer (pictured below). The dish was served on a carved piece of wood. It was honestly too gorgeous to touch. The Serrano ham was covered in caper berries, arugula, olives, piquillo peppers and a dollop of olive oil ice cream. That's right-- olive oil ice cream. We were scared too, but it was pleasantly a smooth and creamy finish to the dish. To eat this dish, we rolled up the ham with the peppers and olives and added a spoonful of the olive oil ice cream all on top of (warm) olive oil infused bread. When I took a bite, I immediately tasted a delicious cold sensation from the olive oil ice cream paired with the perfect warm crunch of the toasty bread.
Since the Serrano Ham dish is a bit heavy, we then opted for the fresh Arugula Salad (pictured below) which was so very refreshing and light. The crunch of the almonds with the crispy apples and manchego cheese, tossed in a smoked apple butter was unlike any salad dressing we've ever had. This was my favorite dish of the night because of how refreshing and crispy the arugula tasted after each bit.
Blake insisted we try the Gambas al Ajilo which is a small dish of smokey shrimp served in a garlic and sherry sauce that also had quite the spice. The shrimp practically melted in our mouth. The waiter surprised us next with the Patatas Bravas (another word for crispy potatoes and pictured below) served over a bed of smoked tomato sauce drizzled with padron pepper aioli. These potatoes seem like the perfect side for a brunch if you ask me rather than a dish at dinner. After a few bites, we had to stop eating them because they became much too filling to eat as a starter.
At this point, we were starting to slow down with each bite because we were saving room for their famous Paella. But before that, we had to try Pamplona's "NY Striploin Pisto con Huevo". This dish was an incredibly unique combination of roasted vegetables, apples, sofrito, chimichurri, topped with a fried egg. The flavors of the apples mixed with the chimichurri were irresistible making us want to take bite after bite. Lastly, we saved just enough room for the large dish of Vegetarian Paella. The server pulled up another table just to fit the large skillet on the table. The paella is made up of calasparra rice, wild mushrooms, piquillo peppers and winter vegetables. This dish can easily be split between four people since it is extremely filling. Overall, we were pleased with the taste of the paella, but it wasn't our favorite dish of the night.
To end on a sweet note, we tried the Saffron Chocolate Truffles (pictured below). Even though the size looked small, they were incredibly rich and filling after just a few bites. The presentation of this dish and all dishes at Pamplona was absolutely beautiful. The churros crusted chocolate truffles were carefully topped with a sweet potato puree and blood orange glaze. This was our first time having sweet potatoes in a dessert and we were pleasantly surprised with how well it paired with the chocolate!
Overall, we are normally not a huge fan of Spanish tapas, but we recommend checking Pamplona out for a romantic date night or for a celebration after work on their outdoor patio! You will be wowed by their beautiful presentation and flavorful bites. Pamplona is located at 3100 Clarendon Boulevard, Arlington, VA. To find out more or check out their menu, visit their website.
(Please note: none of these photos are ours due to the dark lighting, we could not capture photographs. These photos were taken from Pamplona's website and Pamplona's Facebook page).