Saturday, November 3, 2007

Restaurant Review: Seny Tapas Bar


Ok, I know a lot of you who are reading this are not from Cincinnati. But I also know that many of you have had the experience of being so excited about eating at a new restaurant, only to be disappointed in the end. Such was my experience at Seny, a new Spanish tapas bar/restaurant in Cincinnati.
Call me a tapas snob, if you will. But I love love LOVE real Spanish tapas. I lived in Madrid as a college student, and was introduced to some of the best tasting cuisine in the world. They can do a lot with a tapa, and they are really not complicated to make. But I never make them for myself for some reason. So when I saw that there was a new tapas restaurant coming to town I was thrilled. And when I read the web site for this tapas restaurant, I read that they guaranteed the real deal...no more chips 'n dip called "tapas" like you find in so many restaurants these days. Ay caramba, I was going to have some tapas!!

I had visions of Madrid, of the jamon serrano hanging from the ceiling, or of the manchego being cut from huge rounds. I even had visions of my favorite States-side tapas restaurant: Café Babareeba in Chicago. I couldn't wait to experience that joy in my hometown.

So, my husband and I got a sitter (at $8/hour you want to have a GOOD meal) and headed out to Seny. And it went downhill from there.

First, we were terribly early for our table, so we got a drink at the bar. What else but sangria? I couldn't wait for a good, authentic sangria. Ok, some problems here. The sangria was being tapped from a huge sangria pitcher. Well, when you tap sangria, you don't get the fruit. And sangria served without fruit is like Sonny without Cher, Gladys Knight without her Pips, etc. Something was terribly missing, there was no va va va voom. The sangria tasted like red wine and seltzer water. It was refreshing, but there was a kick missing, a fruitiness, a sweetness, something was just not there. I asked the very accomodating bartender for some fruit, and he gave me a plateful, which I immediately squeezed into my drink. Thank goodness for nice bartenders, they keep the customers happy.

Once we were seated, we took a look at the menu, which was fairly limited for a tapas place (again, I am partial to Café Babareeba or Café Iberico in Chicago, who have enormous menus). The menu was split in four groups: Cold tapas, warm tapas, traditional tapas, and main dishes. The cold and warm tapas were all fancy-schmancy small plates of food. They looked good, but nothing spoke to me like a traditional tapa. Looking at the list of traditional tapas, my mouth watered. I remembered reading on the Seny web site that they planned to serve REAL traditional food from Spain, no fooling around with the tried and true. And so we ordered. Our first round was Spanish Tortilla, Gambas al Aioli and a Spanish charcuterie plate.

The Spanish tortilla was served warm. WARM. OK PEOPLE, everyone knows that in Spain your Spanish tortilla is a cold tapa. It is served cold, always. The aioli they served it with was excellent, but the tortilla itself was without flavor, and it was WARM. I've never had a flavorless Spanish tortilla. I tried and tried but could not locate the flavor. Thank goodness for the aioli, which I schmeared all over my poor hot tortilla. When I asked the waiter "Why is this warm?", he said he didn't know, and ventured to guess it was a Cincinnati thing. Hmmmm....

On to the gambas (shrimp with garlic butter). They were excellent. The shrimp were perfectly well cooked and seasoned, and the garlic sauce was very flavorful. Points for gambas.

Charcuterie platter: this had chorizo, cured meat and jamon serrano on it. This was the best thing we ate during our dinner. It was also the only thing that wasn't prepared in the kitchen. Ay ay ay.

We were still hungry, so we got three more tapas: shrimp fritters with mint sauce, patatas bravas and ham and spinach croquetas.

Shrimp Fritters: this was on the fancy schmancy side of the menu, so I had nothing to compare it to in Spain or elsewhere. They were good, but nothing to get too excited about.

Patatas Bravas: (fried potatoes served with spicy aioli sauce) These were good, but I felt like I was eating breakfast home fries with aioli sauce. Patatas bravas are usually large wedges of potato, not little squares. The spicy aioli sauce was great though.

Croquetas: NOOOOOO! How can you destroy the staple of all Spanish Sunday dinners, the croqueta?? They made them with WAY too much beschemel sauce (I think it was beschemel) so that when you bit into one it just oozed white sauce. I didn't see any ham in my croquetas, and very little spinach. So I'm not quite sure what I was eating. Beschemel croquetas? They weren't very flavorful either, they needed something to accompany the sauce. How I yearned for a good chicken and ham croqueta at this point of my meal. Those are so yummy....

When asked if we wanted dessert, I jumped at it...obviously I do enjoy my desserts. The chocolate croquetas we asked for at first were sold out. So we asked for the "tapas desserts", which we understood would be a few different small versions of their desserts. I've had this at Babareeba and it's excellent (mini flan, mini rice pudding, etc.). We also asked for decafs.

The decafs came toute de suite. Too fast. I still had half a croqueta in my mouth and the waiter is giving me a decaf. No cream or sugar. I asked for both. I got the sugar immediately. I asked again for cream, I got a little pitcher of something...it wasn't cream. I poured it in my coffee...it was skim milk. Now, I realize this is a new restaurant and there are kinks and all...but cream? Come on, folks. I took a sip of the coffee....watery, flavorless, blech. Thank God they didn't charge us for it.

The desserts arrived. I kid you not when I describe them this way: Little Debbie meets Dunkin Donuts. DIOS MIO! I couldn't believe what I was eating and seeing. I should ask for a job making desserts there, because Deb and Dunkin' are just not getting the job done. There were four little cakes on a long, pretty dish. Two tasted EXACTLY like the Little Debbie strawberry snack cake. One was a chocolate "pastry" (aka Munchkin donut) covered in glaze (aka Munchkin donut glaze). It tasted like a Munchkin, to the "t'. I HATE a chocolate dessert that doesn't taste like chocolate. There was one cake on this plate that was worth the calories, it was an almond based cake with a hard sugar glaze. It was good. The rest...no me gusta, nada.

So, will I go back to Seny? Not sure...I want to believe they will work things out, locate the spice rack, give the food some flavor, refrigerate the tortillas, add fruit to the sangria glasses and hire a new pastry chef. If those things happen, and my husband and I find ourselves with $65 to spend on dinner (this was our bill), maybe I'll go back. Until then, I'm off to Honey!

1 comment:

Javier said...

I will have to agree with you on this. I grew up eating my grandmother's cooking (Catalana.) When I headed to DC I got to enjoy the delicious tapas at Jaleo and La Tasca. For 2 years I waited for a tapas place to return to and enjoy some tasty food. When Seny opened I was overcome with joy. I waited until my sister and her husband came to visit, and we headed out there to enjoy some authentic Spanish food.....There should be a rule: You cannot call yourself a Spanish restaurant of any kind if you cannot cook rice!!! The paella was the worst mush I have ever tasted. The rice was overcooked and flavorless. I know saffron is expensive, but the paella was not cheap. Use saffron!! I have never been so let down by a restaurant. The rest of the tapas were not much better. Though the gambas were tasty, they do not make up for the rest of the meal. We got a better response from our guests at White Castle than at Seny. ¡Utilizar seny!