Saturday, June 16, 2012

Tapa That

820 Lomax Street, 32204

When looking for a place to eat, one of the top things on most people’s list is variety.  We want a place that allows us to sample food we have not yet tried, but do not want to be stuck with a plate full of food that we may dislike.  And without going to a top dollar fine dining restaurant, we are often left with whatever we meal we have chosen and sadly push it around the plate.  Enter tapas, the Spanish style of eating that involves a range of appetizers and dishes meant to be shared amongst the table.  Tapas range from fully composed dishes, such as a salad, to portioned dishes, such as a dumpling or fritter, allowing each diner the full experience of enjoying a taste.  Tapas bars are becoming not only more fashionable, but more available.

Menu Board, not from the day of dining.
I could think of no better place in Jacksonville for Tapa That to be situated other than Five Points. They use local ingredients, mainly produce, whenever possible and stick to a solid theme of Spanish inspired dishes with their own unique twist.  It is a cozy well-spaced bar with ample seating and yet had nothing overbearing about the dining area, an easy to read chalk board menu makes up a third of the wall, and a lounge area off in the corner with a few couches.  There is no community seating, an odd thing not to see in tapas bars considering the sharing inspired by such a cuisine, but they are more than happy to pull tables together for parties larger than four which still leaves ample room for any guest to get around the restaurant without bumping into another person’s chair.

Service starts out bad, my buddy, Morgan, went inside as a call came in which delayed my entrance.  Upon finishing, I head to the table and am brought only water and offered nothing further.  While discussing the menu, I find out that Morgan was asked if he wanted a beer, he replied he would wait.  Once I sat down no other offers were made for beverage choices, not even soda.
The menu is simple, eight to ten items rotating daily, each well described and simply priced.  A bright spot in the service was when we did ask about a particular menu item the wait staff had plenty of knowledge about them that they readily divulged the information to us.  The server recommended a few that we had been leaning towards which solidified out first two dishes.

Smoked Duck Salad, bacon shallot vinaigrette, $9.
This dish screamed Warm Spinach Salad redux.  And they a grand job of executing it.  The duck breast was smoked with China Mist Mango Tea imparting a slightly sweet and smoky flavor to it.  We felt they could have kept the duck a little more on the rare side, but it also would not have gotten as much of a flavor from the smoking process had they done so.  The dressing was perfect in multiple ways, it was the right temperature so it just barely wilted the spinach, the perfect amount of acid to fat, the sweetness from the shallot played well with the meaty bacon, it all came together like a well-orchestrated symphony.  Accompanying the salad were toasted walnuts and dried mission figs.  The figs were merely cut and nothing else was done to them so they were a bit chewy in the salad but still rounded out the salad nicely and the walnuts were perfectly toasted bringing a nice crunch texture to the dish.  Simply put; job well done.

They properly timed the dishes coming out from the kitchen so that we were not bombarded with 2 dishes at the same time which keeps the table from getting clustered and confused.  However, they did not reset flatware or plates, a very common practice at tapas bars so as to not muddle one dish into the next. 

Cuban Cakes, sour cream, spicy guacamole.  $7.
Being based on the classic dish of Congris Cakes explained the extremely traditional approach to this dish.  A white rice and black bean cake breaded and fried.  They get served with a black bean sauce of sorts; I am willing to bet it is their Black Bean Soup.  Small dollops of sour cream accent the dish and little drops of spicy guacamole are placed on top of each cake.  Yes, “drops”, there was not very much, not enough to have a small taste with each bite.  Overall this dish is really good.  The cakes are nice and light and come out golden brown.  After eating about half of one they begin to get lost in themselves.  The guacamole does not have very much heat and the sauce has the same flavor profile as the cake.  This dish could use a little tweaking to take it to that next level, and those tweaks are nothing major.

As the server is clearing the table from the second course, we ask about a few more items and decide to get another with a strong possibility of a fourth and fifth.

Wild Mushroom and Chevre Terrine, crostini.  $9
Wild mushrooms and goat cheese brought together in a classic preparation of a terrine?  What is not to like?  First off, it is not a terrine, though it does not neccesarily need to be made in a terrine to be called a terrine, it most definetly needs to be set with aspic or gelatin, "chaud froid", or the fats used in the cooking process, rilletes.  It is sauteed or roasted mushrooms placed in a ring mold and topped with whipped goat cheese.  The mushrooms were disappointing.  First, they did not appear to be properly cooked, as if they had overcrowded the pan when cooking them causing them to boil and steam as opposed to get a nice carmelization to them and develop tons of flavors.  Second, they appeared and tasted as if they were merely button mushrooms, nothing wild about these, and if they were a nice wild mushroom, you would never have known because they were sliced so thin they were unrecognizable in both appearance and texture.  The crostnis did not impress either.  They were sliced much like the mushrooms, wafer thin, so they barely stood up to the application they were meant for.  Sadly it was a flavorless piece of notebook paper thin bread.  The flavors were all there in the dish, they just did not come together the way they should have been.

This is where service really faltered.  We had already decided what we wanted to try next, the BLT Quesadilla, but instead of asking us how we were doing and trying to up sell another dish, he just drops the check off before asking us if we were done and without engaging us as he left it.  Not only is this bad for the restaurant for multiple reasons, but it leaves a bad taste in the patrons mouth as if they did not want us there in the first place, like we were inconveniencing them by asking them to provide the service we are willing to pay for and that they are striving to provide.  Though this is not necessarily a universal problem with all the servers or even a daily practice of the one who served us, it can quickly cause universal problems for the restaurant.  The food coming out of the kitchen is enough to keep this place around, but bad service can close a restaurant quicker than it opened.  I personally vote to give it a second shot.  Because the next time I go, I am sure they can "Tapa That".

Tapa That on Urbanspoon

No comments:

Post a Comment