Eater DC: SER Introduces Ballston Diners to Codfish Jowl and Barnacles
Featured image by Rey Lopez for Eater DC.
“Situated on North Glebe Road in Ballston, where traffic is plentiful but pedestrians are scarce, SER’s location leaves something to be desired. But with a little help from the Ballston Business Improvement District, Chef Josu Zubikarai’s authentic Spanish cuisine and co-owner Javier Candon’s knack for management have helped make the restaurant an Arlington dining destination, despite the tough location.
SER’s first year in business was a consistent one. Not much has changed since they opened, beyond the addition of a new, cider-focused tasting menu. But in the following weeks, look for new additions like a “Pajama Brunch” (PJs and slippers encouraged) and a Spanish market where guests can purchase specialty ingredients from Spain. Eater chatted with the co-owners to find out how their partnership has developed over the first year.
SER opened after winning the Ballston Business Improvement District’s Restaurant Challenge. How did that help boost the restaurant’s first year?
Javier Candon: It was really helpful. Obviously, besides all the good stuff that we got through the competition, like an interest free loan from the landlord, we got an 11-year lease, which the first year we didn’t [have to] pay. So besides all the financial stuff, even before we opened, people already were talking about us — in a good way, and in a bad way. So it was a lot of the comments about why to give so much free stuff to a restaurant…But good or bad publicity was publicity at the end of the day.
Given your experience together at Taberna del Alabardero, what was it like opening this new place?
Josu Zubikarai: We were more familiar with D.C. maybe than this part of Virginia, but then this place came and we’re very happy, extremely happy with this location and kind of customer, the clientele that we have here.
Candon: It’s easier now that we have more experience, and also that Josu’s a little bit older and he calmed down a little bit. He used to have a higher temper. Now he’s more relaxed.
Did the fact that you had already established a working relationship help you jump right in to this project like nothing had changed?
Zubikarai: The good thing about it is that he’s good dealing with customers and I stay back… so I don’t have to deal with the customers. I think we [have] a good team.
Candon: [When] you have a good working relationship opening a restaurant, you already know your partner, it’s definitely easier. And as a manager you always need to work together, but as an owner even more. There’s a lot of financial decisions that you need to work very close and discuss, and agree and disagree.
Zubikarai: It’s basically like a marriage.
How has SER distinguished itself from other Spanish cuisine in the area?
Zubikarai: In my opinion, I mean, I don’t want to put any flowers on us, but we’re more authentic than anyone else… Then also we do more modern things, especially, I have a very good sous chef here, David Sierra, which is a very good guy and he’s much younger and has much more new ideas, which is good, always. It gives you some freshness.
Candon: I think staying true to our values: simple, easy, and real [the restaurant’s acronym]. We don’t want to overcomplicate things. We just want to get the best ingredients possible in the market, some of them from Spain, some of them not from Spain, and do not manipulate them too much. So you have an amazing pig, we just roast it. We don’t overcomplicate things, and being very casual at the same time, so the prices are affordable. We’re trying to deliver fine cuisine and service, but in a casual atmosphere.
Read the rest of the interview on Eater DC’s website here!