Sabores in Cleveland Park?
Went last night. Bottom line for me: a pleasant place which could be a good addition to the ‘hood; lots of room for improvement.
Sabores is on Ordway Street, just off the corner of Connecticut Ave. (next to Dino). It’s the new glass structure that replaced the old wreck that covered the Uptown Tavern at that location. I have a personal bias against sports bar kinds of places, so the change is most welcome. Their soft opening was indeed last week, and their “official” opening night is tomorrow.
Chow: They bill themselves as a Nuevo Latino tapas/small plates place, and that’s what they are. Menu focuses on hot and cold small plates, with about half a dozen large plates. Some things you’ll recognize, some you won’t. Nothing too exotic. We ordered five small plates plus a dessert, plus one glass of wine and one beer (after much searching around, they couldn’t find the beer we wanted, and generously comped us a different selection). Excellent beer selection. Sorry, didn’t pay close attention to the wine list this time. I had a nice Spanish white.
Shrimp and some sort of white fish ceviche – it was fine, not special. The shrimp was better than the fish pieces. Marinating liquid was ok.
Manchego and ham croquettes. These were good – nice consistency and zip to the manchego, and the ham was cut into bits, distributed throughout the little croquettes.
Veggie empanada – fine, not special. Focus was mushrooms.
Shrimp in oil with garlic – yes, the traditional prep – this was good.
Roasted quail – billed as orange glazed or something like that, this was, alas, boring. Basically got a plain little bird, with a couple of orange sections on the plate. Small dollop of whipped potato. And a pile of cabbage/carrot slaw swimming in vinegar.
Strawberry “napoleon” – also ok, not special. Thin pastry, macerated strawberries and a little sweet whipped cream.
We always look for food with a LOT of flavor – our selections didn’t really fit the bill, but I do think that the kitchen could tweak things to zip up the dishes. And of course, there were lots of items we didn’t get to try.
Service: Two categories, kitchen and waitstaff.
Kitchen: All five plates came out at the same time. While it’s certainly possible that they were all ready at exactly the same moment, my experience at other tapas/small plates places is a little staggering of delivery times. Table, which was an expectedly small two-top, got too crowded.
Waitstaff: Our expectations were appropriate for a brand new place re service, and they did not disappoint. All of the staff were very pleasant, earnest, and trying hard. It’s clear that they have little or no experience, though – so for their sake I hope they’re fast learners. At least some of this will shake out over time.
The damage: $60 pre-tip, and that was with one drink comped. No, it’s not “cheap.” Across the menu, small plates ran approximately $6-$12; large plates $15-$20.
Atmosphere: pleasant. When the weather is nice (like last night) they’re able to “roll up” most of the glass walls, so it’s an outdoor space. One long white wall with no art; there’s a thin strip of neon lighting at the top, which changes color constantly. My bias: go with art. Or go with white. Lose the neon. And big kudos for the sidewalk beautification along Ordway. The corner/block has been a bit of a blight for some time, and between this space and Dino’s outdoor space, it’s much, much nicer now.
So now I’ll sit back a bit and let these guys settle in for awhile before I visit again. They definitely have potential to be an excellent neighborhood addition, and it's the kind of place that I really hope will do well.
I'm always torn - I'm happy to go early, and try to keep the proper perspective on things....and if not enough of us go "early," then a place will have an even harder time improving and making a good go of it.
We'll see how it goes. They have an excellent location in a neighborhood with a lot of people who have money and want to eat out. And with decent weather (hopefully!!) right around the corner, it's another "outdoor" eating spot. IMO, the style of the place and the types of food they're serving should be a big hit - even if the place does not turn out to be "great."
My fiancee and I recently gave Sabores a try. Here's how it shook out:
The service is still a little spotty, but these are clearly technical and procedural glitches -- the wait staff itself is very friendly and generally pretty attentive. I'd say "uneven" describes the service currently, but I think it'll get better.
As for the food: The bread was good. Fresh, a nice size. They're picking up the trend I first saw recently at Acadiana of giving you one big piece of bread per person dining, rather than a whole basket of the stuff. As an incurable Boredom Snacker, I appreciate the gesture. For dipping, there was a nice small bowl of olive oil, which was tasty, but neither "nuevo" or "latino" that I could detect.
We decided to treat the small plates as appetizers. I had the ham croquettes; she had the veggie empanadas. The croquettes were good. Ingredients are clearly pretty top-notch and the preparation was great -- they were quite crispy but NOT greasy. My only nit-pick was one that would be a recurrent theme throughout the night; not enough "sabores"! Chef Amaya really needs to get comfortable using his spice rack and adding some heat. A jalapeno (or something) here or there would've been much appreciated.
Same goes for the veggie empanadas, which were fine but pretty plain. No heat! And the pastry shell was a "nuevo" change that didn't need to happen -- I much prefer the soft dough of a normal, off-the-street empanada to the brittle, filo-like contraption that encased my veggies.
Dinner was not bad, as well. I had the ropa vieja, which came with a standard black beans and rice -- and I do mean STANDARD. If I was Chef Amaya's parents, and I tried this stuff, I'd ask myself why I paid to send him to chef school. The "ropa" itself was tasty (but NOT, notably, spicy), but a little too "vieja." I thought the point of the dish was to cook the living daylights out of the meat so it gets tender. That didn't happen here. It's a good thing the stuff tasted good, because each bite spent way longer in my mouth than a piece of meat should have to.
My fiancee tried to order the paella for one, but it has been discontinued in favor of a $45, only-for-two version. So she instead got the salmon, which she praised very highly. I'm not a fish person, but I tried some of it, and overall it gets the same assessment as the ham croquettes -- good ingredients, cooked to perfection, but no BIG FLAVORS!
We skipped dessert. Not because nothing on the menu looked good (it did), but because nothing on the menu looked *better* than the stuff being dished out at Coldstone across the street.
Besides, at this point, we needed a little fresh air. Two mojitos apiece will do that to you. And that's one aspect of the meal to which I can give unalloyed praise: The place makes a mean mojito. Or, in our case, four mean mojitos. And, not trivially, the first one tasted like the second one tasted like the third one tasted like the fourth one -- no mean feat when concepts like fresh mint and "muddling" are involved.
Overall, I give this place a 6/10 with much room to grow. It's clear that we're in the presence of seasoned professionals who don't yet have their sea legs. What will really determine whether this place becomes a neighborhood fave is whether those seasoned professionals can start producing some seasoned food. For a place called sabores, there just wasn't enough sabor. Nonetheless, the latin flavors that it does offer are a welcome addition to the Cleveland Park scene, particularly the wide variety of tapas that they offer. (I love Bardeo, but sometimes a guy doesn't feel like a meatball, y'know?) And if I had to pick a place to stop after work for small plates and a drink, I'd take a mojito and some platos here any day of the week.
Thanks for the report. Like my earlier post, you've also identified what is going to be key for me patronizing these folks - I WANT FOOD WITH FLAVOR! Maybe we're in the minority - the place has been packed! I can also tell you that the listserve for the Cleveland Park neighborhood has had several posts from folks raving about the food. Clearly, we all have different tastes. I agree that Sabores can be a great addition to the 'hood if they can keep developing.....I just hope that it's one that I'd like to visit.