Saturday, February 02, 2008

La Tasca (Baltimore Restaurant Week)

I went with my sister and some friends to La Tasca to sample their tapas menu for Restaurant Week last night. La Tasca is a gorgeous, two-story restaurant in Harborplace with a beautiful view of the Harbor and the USS Constellation. It's right there - I mean right there - at the other end of the Skywalk from the Gallery on the other side of Pratt Street. Very conveniently located. Also near La Tasca: the above-average Irish restaurant Tir na nÓg, and Edo Sushi. I've never been to Edo Sushi, but it's constantly mentioned as one of the Best Restaurants in the area. I have to go sometime.

La Tasca has an arrangement where if you want the Restaurant Week prices, then everyone at the table must order from the Restaurant Week menu. This was great, because we were all there for Restaurant Week. Their menu included one salad, four tapas of our choice (from a selection of about twenty), and one dessert. We started out with glasses of sangría (which were extra). I got their rebujito, which had sherry in it. At least they said it did. It didn't seem so obvious as I drank it, but I figured all the sherry had settled to the bottom. Oh well, it would kick in soon, I thought. My salad was pretty good, fresh greens with chopped bell peppers and fresh tuna, and topped with balsamic vinegar. Everyone else seemed to like her salad. One of us got a salad with lots of prosciutto, and wanted something a little sweet in it to cut that.

Continuing to sip my sangría, waiting to feel the kick or, for that matter, taste the sherry, we waited patiently for our tapas. My favorite tapa was the calamares (calamari - note the cognate?), battered and served with mayonnaise (not so much a mayo-based sauce but, it seemed, just plain old mayo). It was a little salty (in a good way) and very crunchy without being tough or dried out. I really liked the calamares and would get it again. That is, if I was going back. You see the rest of the tapas were, well, lacking.

  • Meaty, perhaps once-frozen albóndigas in a generic tomato sauce with some peas thrown in. My sister and I shared the three that we got, and we still left some behind. It wasn't due to their size.
  • The blandest mussels I have ever eaten in my life. At least one of mine was closed. I've never left so many behind before. Trust me: you will find better ones in one of the street fairs in Little Italy. Another great plate of mussels: Nasu Blanca. And wait: doesn't Tapas Teatro serve some, too?
  • I got a flank steak and potatoes dish. The potatoes were tasty and flavorful. I found the steak to be on the tough side. My sister liked it better. That was good, because she got some memorably forgettable tapas as well.
  • One thing she ordered was a salmon steak with chopped up tomatoes or something (they were pretty flavorless, so it was difficult to tell what they had once been). She didn't care for it. I thought it was better than anything I had eaten save for the calamares.
  • She also got a typical tapas restaurant dish, a tapa-sized bowl of paella a la Valenciana. It included some pretty dry pieces of some kind of meat that tasted like chicken. The rice pilaf itself was not bad.
  • Believe it or not, our friends fared worse. One dish that one of them got sounded like it would be delicious garden vegetables served Spanish-style. What she actually got was mixed frozen vegetables from a bag. So classy! She was quite annoyed about it but remained gracious - it wasn't the fault of the waiters' after all. But it did become the running joke of the evening.
  • One of them also got some shrimp simmering in a butter sauce, which I tasted. I think it was a butter sauce, but it really could have been wine, or something else. A throwaway, sadly: again, I have had better. At least they were tender.
The desserts were much better. My sister got this truffle and chocolate dish which was tasty (I tried it), while one of our friends got a bowl of strawberry ice cream, which she also liked. Our other friend and I each ordered the crème Catalana: basically a large custard in a shallow dish with crème brulée caramalized sugar in the middle and strawberry slices on top. It was good, but still not as good as similar dishes I have eaten elsewhere. It seemed almost like a lazy crème brulée with that crispy topping just in the middle. But it was good enough that I would recommend it if you went to La Tasca. I mean much of the stuff is pretty bland, so at least order something tasty.

And by this time the sangría had truly not kicked in. I now suspect they just gave me some fruit juice with an anemic splash of sherry in it that I couldn't even taste, if there was any sherry in it at all. I could have easily gotten behind the wheel with the drink in my hand and still have had a ridiculously legal blood alcohol content.

Long story short: for $30 plus about $5 per drink, this was a pretty forgettable place to eat. Truly, the meal was uneven - even the alcohol was weak - and even though the service was not bad, you go for the food, which became the butt of many of the night's jokes. Note to the folks at La Tasca: you don't want your guests making derogatory jokes about your dishes, especially when they are giving you their business. That's when "patronize" with a long /ā/ - to give your business to someone - and "patronize" with a short /ă/ - to make fun of - mean one and the same thing. Folks, that's not a good thing. Plus, I can find jokes online for free - why should I pay $30 plus tax for new ones?

La Tasca on Urbanspoon


jmc said...

I tried to check out La Tasca over the holidays, but the service was horrendous. At lunchtime, I waited to be seated (without seeing a single waitperson) for 10 minutes. Then the bartender appeared momentarily, looked at us waiting and disappeared again. Which is a shame. So instead we ate at the Cheesecake Factory, which had excellent service even if it is a chain.

John said...

The same thing happened to me the last time I went to Akbar in Mt. Vernon over - about, oh, 2 years ago (I hold long grudges; perhaps I should grow up). Maybe I should go back at some point. But I was pretty PO'd to stand there for 5 minutes during the lunch buffet in a half-empty restaurant with the maitre'd glancing over at me for a second so he could return to his conversation, which was of course more important (and DON'T even GET me started on the worker who almost ran me over with a table while I was at the buffet).

Anonymous said...

Tapas Teatro does have the mussels. I got them when we went there last year. They were very good!

Anonymous said...

John, you forgot to mention their "tasty" vegetables and potatoes. Ewww!

John said...

No hon, I mentioned them!

crabapple said...

If you ever go out to Frederick, try Isabellas, a tapas restaraunt there where I've always had a wonderful time and great food. Good wine selection also, I recommend the fried asparagus that is served in a champagne glass with aioli..yummy.