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Dec 19, 2011 10:26 AM

Kika Tapas - 1st Impressions

We made it over to Kika Tapas, the new place from the Tapeo/Solea folks in Kendall Square, last Thursday night. I thought they did a nice job with the physical space. It'll get a good after work crowd, so it was smart that they devoted a large section of the restaurant to a fairly spacious bar area.

The bartending was much weaker than I anticipated. The cocktail menu is made up of what appear to be the expected overly sweet drinks. We didn't try any so I can't really confirm this, though. They had two beers on draft (and a decent bottle selection). We went with the Estrella - it was our second favorite Spanish beer from our time in Barcelona (I believe the other beer on tap was Harpoon IPA). When I told the bartender we wanted two Estrellas, he gave me this puzzled look, then searched the cocktail menu. I had to remind that Estrella was beer, not a mixed drink. Not a good sign for the level of bartending to say the least. Later on in the evening the same bartender received a crash course on how muddle mint in a drink. Yet again, not a good sign for the overall skill of the bartenders.

We found the food quite similar to Tapeo. The notable difference was in regards to presentation. Everything at Kika was a little more refined. Our first dish was the marinated artichoke hearts. We've had this at Tapeo many times, but the Kika version was a little different. These artichokes were grilled (a nice touch) and they came in an overly salty oil that was verging on making them inedible. The second dish was the mussels with a spicy tomato broth. This was our favorite dish by far. The broth was particularly good. The third item we shared was the baked goat cheese with marinara. This was reminiscent of the same dish at Tapeo, but the Kika version lacked the flavor Tapeo has in the tomato sauce and the creaminess I'd expect from goat cheese. It was oddly quite firm. Our last item was the beer braised short ribs. Tapeo serves this dish floating in a bath of the braising liquid, while Kika cleaned up the plate and serves the quite large piece of meat (probably too large actually) on a plain white plate with a drizzle of sauce on top. The sauce was quite good, but I wanted more of it. The meat was also overly fatty in parts.

This was only their fourth day open for business, so I'll cut them a little slack for sure. There was a solid crowd and I'd expect them to do well. That being said, another sub par meal there and we'll probably just go across the street and hit Abigail's instead.

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  1. Went with three friends for lunch today. Cool space, very Almodóvar. Big bar. We were seated in a booth. What is it about tapas I've had in the States - it just doesn't sing to me. I always feel like once the wine takes over, everyone is shouting and laughing and having a great time, but I never seem to remember the food. I have extremely limited experience in Spain (one layover in Madrid - now that really was delicious). I let everyone else order, except for the wild mushrooms (earthy and salty - tasty) - calamari (over-cooked and dried out), shrimp in sizzling oil (ok - nothing memorable), eggplant stuffed with cheese (again, not memorable, a bit messy presentation), beef and chicken empanadas (I did not of each to an order), a Brazilian cheesy bread (subtly good! I liked this). Lots of bread to sop up sauces. Churros and espressos to finish and a couple of glasses of grenacha. Total came to $93 before tip. Friendly enough waiter. They were definitely swamped - big lunch time crowd. People in Kendall are starved for good food, apparently. At least it's something different from the "New American" (for lack of a better term) places that have been cropping up all over "Area 4." (I love quotes!) We all said we'd return to hang out at the bar.

    1 Reply
    1. re: digga

      Thank you both for your attention to detail on these reports. This place is in my immediate neighborhood, but I doubt I will make it over until after the New Year. We so needed these new options in the Kendall Square area; I am really glad to hear that Kika's is drawing a crowd. Good news. Thanks for these reviews.

    2. I ventured here on Wednesday for a team lunch. My thoughts were similar to the ones already posted - a nice addition to the neighborhood, but nothing food-wise jumped out at me as exceptional. I like the look and feel of the space though.

      We also had the baked goat cheese, but found our dish to be have none of the firmness cited in mkfisher's report. I'm not a fan of goat cheese, yet found the dish more palatable than expected, and paired nicely with bread. Empanadas were boring, but the spicy sauce it came with was nice - would've loved more of that. The filling was fairly dry, and spilled out when you cut into it. On any day, I'd rather walk down to Izzy's and get a fried chicken and cheese empanada for a $1.75 instead. Also had the shrimp in garlic - our shrimp was cooked fine, but the dish was not garlicky enough. There's a better version of this dish at Cuchi Cuchi. We also ordered a shrimp with fried egg, asparagus and fried bread dish. Individual ingredients cooked well, but needs something to bring it all together; otherwise comes across like an odd stir-fry.

      Also got a small order of paella (valencia style) which was tasty but a tad salty. The paella takes 20 minutes, so they suggest ordering that up front before the tapas. For the 4 of us (females), 4 tapas and a small paella was more than enough. Had plenty of leftovers too.
      2 of us though are decidedly not adventurous eaters and they went for the safest sounding dishes on the menu. Would be willing to go back to try some of the more interesting sounding dishes, but trip #1 was decidedly lacking in pizazz.

      1. The Wife and I ventured here last night (Saturday night), as we were looking to find somewhere new outside of our normal rotation of spots north of the river. I had checked Open Table around 4:30pm and found open slots for everything from 6 to past 9, so when we arrived at 7:15 (sans reservation) to find an 85% empty restaurant and the hostess telling us "We're full, but we can seat you at the bar" I was a little taken a back. I shrugged it off and we were seated at the bar. The bartender was friendly enough, explaining they are a new place from the Solea folks, giving us a quick run down of the menu. We ordered two glasses of wine, one Spanish, one Portugese, both interesting and sufficient pours for the cost ($9/each).

        For food we went with the Oceano (codfish, shrimp, squid, scallops, clams and mussels, $32) Paella for two, along with two tapas to start, the sautéed wild mushrooms and baked goat cheese in tomato basil sauce. The mushrooms were earthy and juicy, and quickly devoured. I was curious how these would come out, as my history with other Spanish focused tapas places around the city found they came out dripping in oil. Not so with Kika's rendition. The goat cheese and sauce tapa was extremely flavorful, a good balance between the punch of the cheese and the sweetness of the sauce. I like my goat cheese a bit more firm, so that it does not slide off the accompanied bread, but this version was also quickly devoured by the wife and I.

        The paella came out in a case iron skillet 20-25 minutes later, as we were previously warned. Easily big enough for two people, we dug in. Seasoned well, the yellow rice provided a good base for all the seafood included. My wife found the scallops luke warm, almost as if they were tossed in at the last minute. She would not eat them, concerned for them being undercooked. I quickly dug in, and found the scallops tasty, but still a bit odd as I expected them to be cooked/warm. She also found the saffron taste of the paella to be a bit on the strong side, something I did not find. Although I did think the paella was running a bit close to the border of being considered salty. Never the less, the skillet was completely clean by the time we left. The clams and mussels were perfectly cooked, plump and juicy.

        For $68 before tax, the meal seemed pretty reasonable. By the time we left around 9, the place was 85% busy, with a 20-top behind us at high tops at the bar. One thing we would have liked was more help behind the bar. The only bartender came out from behind the bar, and was helping with the 20-top, leaving us sitting at the bar waiting to get the check and pay for our meal. They do validate parking, which makes the normally-$8 Kendall Square Parking garage a $2 charge. I would definitely come back again with a bigger group, to allow for more sampling of the menu.

        1. Went here last week for dinner and was not blown away. The decor is nice but the hard surfaces make things noisy. Not lively. Noisy.

          Tapas came as they will in fits and starts but there was a loooooooooooooooong lag getting our final two and, judging by the lukewarm temp on these, they were sitting somewhere for a while.

          Top picks were the mussels and the spinach with pine nuts and raisins. I would rate Solea a good few notches above Kika and Jaleo (at least when I have tried it in DC) still further up the scale.

          Service was sweet but somewhat absent-minded. "Oh that's right! I was going to get you water!"

          1. Finally made it back to Kika after our original visit. The space is still really nice, but I truly wonder how long they will survive there. With EVOO, Za and Abigail's all less than a minute walk, I'm not sure why anyone would eat at Kika. The food was generally fine. However, they should be embarassed by the serrano ham they're serving. It was more like slimey deli counter ham. It makes me sad they think that's acceptable product to send out of the kitchen.