I am always as excited as everyone else to try the next new place. I have been patiently waiting for Open Society to open up (seems like it took forever!) and recently hubby and I enjoyed our first date night alone in weeks and weeks, and checked it out. It’s diagonal across the street from Recess and is nice because there is plenty of parking around.
We were greeted warmly by the host and even though we were early for our reservation, were seated promptly. The first thing you notice about this place is the giant coffee bar that dominates the middle of the room. The second thing you notice is the roar of the crowd—even when it wasn’t totally full, it was very loud (I look for some noise-deadening retrofits in their future—at least I hope so). We were seated along the wall beside the bustling coffee bar, which was a little awkward because you’re basically face to face with people’s butts waiting to order coffee, but good for them that they are doing such a good coffee business.
We decided to go with all tapas, as the small plates menu was larger and sounded a bit more interesting. Our server recommended four to five, so we ordered five. So, the first somewhat annoying thing was although we ordered them at the same time, I did not expect them to bring them out all at once, which is what happened, and not particularly quickly either. So I recommend if you don’t want it that way, either order them one or two at a time, or tell them to space them a bit. They could barely fit all of ours on the table.
The first item we had (and really the only offering with red meat unless you include duck) was the albondigas ($10). These were lamb and chorizo meatballs served in a rich chipotle marinara sauce with a sprinkling of queso fresco and herbs. These were the best item on the table, and I am not normally a meatball person. Hubby really enjoyed them as well. They were tender meatballs with a nice little kick and saltiness from the chorizo and I really enjoyed the smoky sauce—much more interesting than a traditional marinara. The cheese offered just a touch of creaminess.
My next favorite item was the torta ($8) although hubby was not as big a fan. It was dense corn cake (nice bits of corn in there) and was served on top of a little salad/garnish type thing with arugula and balsamic. There were asparagus spears on top. It was served with chipotle-avocado emulsion. I liked the corn cake dipped into the sauce (as unappetizing as it appears in pictures) but the greens and asparagus seemed a little disconnected to me—almost like they don’t really follow the theme of the cuisine. And this garnish type salad was repeated in another dish as well—and pretty much the same sauce was repeated as well.
The croquettas ($13) were the other dish with the same greens (although on the menu described as micro greens). These were meant to be lump crab cakes (well with the name croquettas, I assumed there was more than one). There was one crab cake and we both thought it was pretty disappointing. It was mushy in texture and hubby kept asking me if I was sure this was the one that was supposed to have crab in it. The only evidence was a slightly fishy taste. And the avocado emulsion made its second appearance. I did like the little crispy fried onions served alongside it, you really needed something to break up the mushy factor. I would take a pass on this one. (And please change the name to croquette if there’s only one).
I had high hopes for the risoles ($8), which our server described as fried dumplings. They are made with artichoke, chickpeas, scallions, queso fresco and garlic. I love artichoke and I will say, these had a nice strong artichoke flavor to them. Unfortunately they were fried so much that they were really just a crispy shell with nothing really inside them. I was hoping to bite into a light creamy interior, but it was pretty much the same throughout. They were on top of a lighter lemon-based sauce that you really needed because they were so crunchy, but there wasn’t enough of it to go around to each fritter. I’m not sure if there was an execution problem or if this was what they intended them to be, but I feel like they could have been better. Again, I did enjoy the intense artichoke flavor though.
We also had the Marioscos ($11). This was their version of fried calamari and shrimp—it was described on the menu as corn tempura battered, so I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. It was kind of a cross between a traditional tempura and cornmeal crusting—it was interesting and the seafood itself was very tender. I liked that they served this one on top of something different—a chili-green papaya salad—and that it was served with a different sauce—a cilantro lime vinaigrette. Dressings like this get me excited. Sadly, there wasn’t enough of it here to really dress the seafood in any meaningful way, it was really more like a garnish under the calamari and shrimp—so the seafood came across as dry.
We decided to see if we could save what was becoming a rather disappointing meal with dessert. We both had read several people discussing how good the flan was. The caramel flan is beautifully presented—much more refined looking than any of the tapas. Someone is taking care in presentation here. Too bad it was pretty bland. We ended up leaving much of it because it was just hard to get excited about eating it. I did like the slices of caramelized bananas. We did enjoy the dessert wine they had though—Ben Rye from Donnafugata.
Overall, we were pretty disappointed in our meal. The service was off to start (I really don’t think serving all the dishes at once is the best plan) and the food was lackluster. There were messy garnishes and sauces repeated on several dishes, which to me, shows a bit of lack of creativity.
After the dinner I went back to read yelp reviews (something I don’t do very often) and I realized many of the very high marks were coming from people who only went for coffee. So, it sounds like they have a strong coffee bar. And I can see how the neighborhood would appreciate having a local place to get a good cup of coffee. I just hope they improve the food. The menu has a lot of potential, but the execution was pretty lacking. I am expecting a lot of people to disagree with me, but I really want to hear from those of you who have eaten a full meal here. What were your thoughts? Who knows, maybe it was just an off night when we were there. I hope so.
4850 North College Ave