|Rob Shelley © National Gallery of Art, Washington|
Catalan cuisine is distinguished by combining sweet fruit and nuts with savory meats and vegetables. Indeed, in addition to two hearty, traditional stews - one featuring chicken with dried fruit and pine nuts, and one featuring beef cheeks and mushrooms - the buffet is a vegetable lover’s delight. The colorful samfaina, a savory vegetable stew, takes its name from the Catalan verb escalivar, to cook slowly near embers of a fire. We went back for seconds of the cold mélange of white beans, olives and tomatoes, made crunchy with diced cucumber and shallots. There’s also an antipasto-like array of roasted peppers and eggplant, a salad with preserved tuna in romesco sauce, and a spread of Catalan cheeses, served with almonds and quince marmalade.
Still the highlight of meal was the shot glass of Sopa Freda de cireres de Santa Coloma de Cervello, a rich, smooth, tart/sweet cold cherry and tomato soup. Like the uber-rich crema Catalana, offered for dessert, a little goes a long way.
The price of the buffet is $20.25 a person, with à la carte entrees from $12-$14.50. When you consider that Andrés’ food truck Pepe sells a ham sandwich for $20 (admittedly with Iberico pork), this taste of Spain is a bargain. Iberian wines, beer and sangria add to the celebration.
The Garden Café is in the West Building near the entrance at 6th Street and Constitution Avenue NW; 202-712-7454.