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La Tasca, 722 7th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. (202) 347-9190 La Tasca, a recent arrival on D.C.’s bustling Chinatown dining scene, is a British chain specializing in Spanish tapas. Its menu is extensive; its atmosphere, lively. The sangria — particularly the signature variety spiked with a touch of cinnamon — does its job. Unfortunately, the dishes served up by La Tasca’s kitchen can be inconsistent and capture about as much authentic Spanish flavor as one might expect from the culinary wizards that are the Anglo-Saxons. While not entirely without charm, La Tasca pales in comparison to other neighborhood gems, including Jaleo, which offers very similar fare. Strangely, La Tasca’s most disappointing dishes would seem the most difficult to get wrong. How hard can it be to fry up some sausage? At La Tasca, the kitchen turns out a plate of chorizo that not only is entirely devoid of flavor, but also seems to share the consistency of drywall. A simple tomato and goat cheese salad, still on the menu in mid-February, features vapid, underripe tomatoes, while meager slices of manchego cheese arrive beaded with droplets of grease. From now on, we’ll definitely skip the $2 bread basket, which contains slices of olive and sun-dried tomato bread so dry it can be choked down only when drenched in olive oil. Despite La Tasca’s missteps, a few dishes do click. The tortilla, or omelet, comes out plump and steaming — a rustic fusion of eggs, onions, and potatoes. Marinated anchovies, called boquerones, are firm and briny with a light note of refreshing acidity. An assortment of fried fish, squid, and shrimp is surprisingly light and greaseless, though it deserves a better mate than a listless dollop of garlic mayonnaise. A lamb chop special not on the regular menu, should be. The three chops were crisp and moist with robust spices. Among the other reliable items on La Tasca’s menu is a simple plate of sauteed mushrooms and baked eggplant doused in herby tomato sauce and melted cheese. The bulk of La Tasca’s dishes, however, fall flat. The smoked salmon and cream cheese on French bread tastes not unlike something we might whip up for dinner on a night neither of us felt like cooking. Similarly, La Tasca’s “famous” albondigas, or meatballs, though agreeable, possess a flavor made familiar by Chef Boyardee — a renowned chef, to be sure, but currently holding no Michelin stars. Of La Tasca’s featured paellas, we tried a vegetarian version that had a spattering of diced veggies and about as much pizazz as instant rice-in-a-bag. Everything — but everything — that emerges from La Tasca’s kitchen comes dusted with chopped parsley. We don’t mind the taste, but after a dozen dishes, the monotonous presentation becomes downright depressing. The restaurant’s appetizer-sized portions range from $4 to $7, and making a satisfying meal of them requires attentive service. Unfortunately, the usually obliging staff at La Tasca seems overwhelmed on its busiest nights. On one visit, our server repeatedly disappeared for 30 to 40 minutes at a time, leaving us famished and lingering over just a few small plates. In Spanish, la tasca means “the pub,” and its main bar is pleasant and spacious. The restaurant’s Old World decor — complete with faux balcony and winding wrought-iron staircase — is bright and festive, though a touch overdone. Colorful posters and kitschy trinkets occupy nearly every inch of wall space in the two-story dining room. At the end of the day, La Tasca — which operates more than 40 outposts in England, Scotland, and now the United States — feels and tastes like a chain. Think of it as the Olive Garden or Cheesecake Factory of Spanish cuisine and you won’t be disappointed. In a small, snobbish way, we actually find La Tasca’s arrival comforting. It means that chain restaurants serving up hour-long waits and underwhelming cuisine are not a uniquely American phenomenon. — Vanessa Blum is a senior reporter at Legal Times. Phillip Dubé is an attorney at D.C.’s Covington & Burling.

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