Lately I've been dreaming of vegetables. For lunch, I made a huge batch of peperonata (Italian sautéed peppers and onions), sour from wine vinegar, and ate it on bruschetta while complaining to myself that few restaurants take vegetables seriously.
I can overlook a questionable piece of meat if it comes with a couple of exemplary vegetable side dishes. But best of all is a choice of vegetable sides à la carte. Tom Douglas always has a few to offer, as does the homey bistro Cassis. Those are pricey destination spots, though. Where can I get small plates of nicely cooked vegetables at reasonable prices?
The obvious answer is tapas, and that's why I was delighted to discover La Tienda Cádiz, the new Capitol Hill market and restaurant owned by Danielle Philippa, creator of Bandoleone and Tango. La Tienda transcends traditional tapas with a variety of dishes from Spain, Portugal and Morocco, all available to eat there or take out. While I especially enjoyed the vegetables, there are plenty of options to soothe carnivorous moods as well.
The market features a selection of Mediterranean wine, food, cooking utensils and cookbooks. Fresh bread and rolls are baked on the premises.
The deli case is brimming over with prepared foods, meats (the incomparable Serrano ham is a relative bargain here at $15.75 a pound), and an admirable selection of Spanish and Portuguese cheeses sliced to order and wrapped in cheese-friendly wax paper.
Most of the menu is available at lunch and dinner. For lunch, order and pick up at the counter. Choose a soup and sandwich, or anything from the deli case heated up or at room temperature. The caldo verde ($6), a Portuguese soup of potatoes, kale and linguica sausage in a tangy green broth, should not be missed.
Saturday and Sunday mornings feature brunch. A delicious saffron-spiced challah roll ($2) filled with currants and dusted with powdered sugar would make a nice accompaniment to the tortilla espagnol ($7), an egg-potato omelet with onions and peppers.
At dinnertime, La Tienda converts to efficient table service, and you can sip a drink at a window table on this great people-watching corner. That drink might be one of the several Madeiras and ports including a delicious 1991 Porto Rocha colheita (cole-YAY-ta), a tawny port made from the grapes of a single vintage year. Free tastings (sometimes wine, sometimes food) are held on the second Saturday of each month from 3 to 5 p.m.
The meat and seafood items at Cádiz are perfectly acceptable, but when I go back, it will be to slake my cravings for the zahlouk (eggplant casserole, $5), berza (braised greens, $6) and the marvelous cauliflower gratin ($6).
Coliflor a la Gallega: Cauliflower is at its best when subjected to high heat, as here in this creamy gratin. The white florets are baked until tender under a blanket of bread crumbs. This was a standout dish, bursting with more flavor than you knew cauliflower could have.
Fideua: Broken macaroni noodles are cooked with parsley and garlic, then topped with bread crumbs. Too many bread crumbs, in this case: The flavor was good, but it was like eating nicely seasoned hay.
Vieiras a la Gallega: Here a sprinkle of bread crumbs concealed scallops in a bacon-cream sauce, which is not as rich as it sounds. The bacon added a subtle smokiness, and the slightly seafaring flavor of the scallops infused the whole gratin.
Bisteeya: From the other side of the Mediterranean (Morocco) comes this sweet-savory chicken pie, spiced with cinnamon, wrapped in crispy phyllo and topped with powdered sugar. An unusual and delicious combination.
Diablitos y Magdalenas: Three chocolate truffles (the little devils) flavored with tequila and cayenne are matched with three pale almond cookies (the little cakes). Serve this to two people and the discussion will immediately turn to who gets the extra truffle and who gets the extra cookie.
Itemized bill, meal for two
Coliflor a la Gallega: $6
Vieiras a la Gallega: $12
Diablitos y Magdalenas: $6
Glass of 1991 Porto Rocha Colheita: $6
Matthew Amster-Burton: firstname.lastname@example.org.