Estragon: South End Tapas: Nothing Amazing 9/15/08
We were really hoping this would be super, but it's not.Of the 9 dishes we had, we would return for only 3, and that's not enough.
Estragon has one thing in common w/ Toro: the eggplant dish may be their best. This one was 4 creamy grilled slices topped w sauteed pignoli and chorizo bits and a touch of agrodolce. The salad was the best i've had in a long time: arugula w/ pomegranate , walnuts and a very large round of seared spanish goat cheese. The ham croquettes were much better than i had read; a generous portion of 4 large fried ovals of nutmeg redolent thickened beschamel w/ good amount of chopped ham.
The sauteed frogs legs tasted off and we sent them back. i've never seen fr.legs as tiny as these.
the grilled lamb skewers had no marinade or spice coating; the supporting mushrooms in the wild mushrooom ragout- had been sitting around too long. we asked for a ramekin of romesco sauce and that gave the lamb a little life.
fried calamari was fine; lemon alioli tasty. the fried chickpeas were fine, but boring.
the tongue on crostini had WAY too much vinaigrette on it so you couldn't really taste the tongue.
the 3 icecreams were most intriguing, amply portioned and very good : sherry; nougat, and salted caramel.
the place was 1/4 full at 9pm on a monday night.and not hugely painfully loud like Toro.
service was friendly and professional but the kitchen was wicked slow. the room itself, except for its elegant chandeliers, was not memorable.
The sangria, unlike Toro's, was yucky. the sweet soda pop kind. and THIS from a Spanish owner? ; what's that about? The wine list's 2 riojas were very disappointing.
So i don't think we'll be returning. oh well......
I was also lukewarm on this place...have spent several years in Spain and felt that all the "authentic" items I tried (tortilla, padron peppers and txistorra) weren't quite right. The txistorra was tasty but a bit bland; again, more importantly the taste didn't match what you get in Spain. The padron peppers were a bit bitter and soggy and not salty enough. I could make a better tortilla myself.
The stuff I've never had in Spain (maybe it's there somewhere, but I've never seen it there) was actually a bit more interesting. The "white" ham was super fatty (obviously) but delicious, though my wife refused to eat any. The scallops were exquisite.
The hyped chickpea fries were a cool idea but got boring after a few bites.
Overall I expected something a bit different, coming from the owner of Taberna de Haro. I feel that most of the new Spanish tapas places are dominated by dishes that, while often delicious, are not authentic Spanish. Toro is a good example of this (maybe 1/2 of the menu). TdH is a solid, basic, authentic Spanish place. I thought Estragon would be more TdH than Toro. Not that there's anything wrong with Toro!
I'll give this another shot at some point.
I absolutely loved Las Ventas market attached to the restaurant on the other hand. I must for every lover of Spanish food who likes to cook at home.
"nothing amazing" is a phrase that sums up my experience here as well. i am hesitant to write off a restaurant after one visit so we will probably give it another shot in a month or two.
service was efficient and cordial. the chickpeas were...good good. calamari was... good. the patatas bravas -as noted above- were... french fries. cod cheeks were...ok. overall, nothing stood out as horrible nor exceptional. it lacked bold flavors and no dishes really stood out as memorable. with so many excellent restaurants in the area, estragon needs to step up the menu to make it worthwhile.
My experience is a lot closer to gini's, though I agree with the OP that the sangria is weak. I think Estragon is like a lot of places, including Toro, where in the early going your mileage depends a lot on what you order. I wasn't an early fan of Toro's food, but it steadily improved over time and I (and they) uncovered the consistent winners on its menu.
(I'm still a fan of Toro, by the way, and would be more of one if its success didn't make it such a pain to patronize. Glad to hear Mr. Bissonnette is coming back -- though not having him doing offal dishes, the main reason I've given KO Prime any business, is a big loss there -- and that Oringer is smart enough to cement their relationship with a piece of the action.)
If you're a fan of tinto de verano (which we've been drinking a lot of at home this summer), you may want to check out Las Ventas, the Spanish grocery operated by Estragon next door. They sell La Casera, the lemon soda used by most Spaniards for their own tinto de verano (so common it's often called tinto de Casera). The flavor of La Casera isn't remotely approached by domestically-produced citrus sodas, so I think it's worth paying the premium for.
I had quite the opposite experience there recently.
We drank: Gran Feudo Rose - newly in and quite lovely; Negre - a solid red; and my DC had a few glasses of Martin Codax.
A plate of hand cut jamon serrano from the bar - nutty and fatty and good.
Roasted padron peppers, sprinkled with corse salt - simply roasted peppers, sure, but I love 'em.
Mejillones - sauteed mussles with cherry tomatoes and garlic in an addictive sherry sauce that I wanted to lick clean out of the bowl. I also appreciate the thoughtful addition of a finger bowl with this dish.
Cocotxas - cod cheeks pil pil - I thought they needed some acid to set off all the frying, but I think my DC adored them.
Txistorra - house-made basque sausage roasted with green apples - absolutely delicious.
Surtido de quesos - the standouts being La Paval - a lovely goat and cow blue from Asturias - and Los Cameros - a creamy, funky semi-soft. The aged manchego was fine, and I was happy to see quince paste on the plate.
Perhaps because we steered relatively clear of the "basics" of American tapas restaurants we lucked out food and drink-wise, but I was certainly happy with all of our choices. I agree that the room is a bit oddly set up - there seems to be something missing from the table placement, but we sat at the bar and received excellent service from Theo. I still completely adore Toro, but I'd like to head back to Estragon for their Pig's head one of these days.
I definitely enjoyed our dinner at Estragon. I loved everything, but the highlights for me were the cod cheeks (yes, the sauce could have been more acidic, but I thought the fry job was perfect) and the La Paval cheese (which is sold in their market next door). I loved the sausage, but it got a little dry when it cooled a bit. Mussels were delicious, even though sherry is not my favorite flavoring. Peppers were simple and salty and perfect. The service from Theo was fantastic.
I can see how people might find the room/decor off-putting, but I was fine with it. Nice and open, clean lines, not fussy or cramped (like many tapas places). Biggest downside to me is the location - a bit off the South End beaten path and right smack in Resident Parking Land. Thankfully Rocca's free parking lot is a scant 1/4 mile away.
I agree with your assessment of this place; it didn't live up to the hype it's received on this board. The 'interpretations' of some of the basics like patatas bravas automatically set the night up for disappointment (french fries with spicy ketchup?) in my opinion.
The chickpeas were just "fine" in my opinion as well. In fact, a little too harsh with the burnt/paprika taste. They almost had a "pencil lead" taste (not that I munch on graphite nibs frequently, but you know the smell I'm talking about).
My DC (a Spaniard), and I (lived in Spain for a year) both decided not to try the Sangria, mainly because we'd almost never seen or heard of Spaniards drinking the stuff. Where I lived, down south, everyone drank Tinto de Verano - red wine and fizzy lemon soda. I remember Sangria as something strictly for the tourists. Maybe the Spanish owner was trying to replicate something authentically non-Spanish? Just my thought.
Re: Noise levels - Though I havent been to toro, I found Estragon to be unpleasantly loud. I think the location of your seats in the house has a lot to do with it, but my friend and I could barely hear each other. It was actually a big reason we wouldn't want to return, sadly.