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Salinas Spanish -- Really!!??

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So I ran by this place a week or so ago and I thought it looked kind of weird/bad from the outside. But I noted the positive reviews posted on the door. Read a few of them online and figured I had to check it out. Thy got two stars from the Times a few months ago. It's a nice space in the back--they open the roof and it's semi-outdoors but warmed by a fireplace. It's not a terrible place at all. It's just not good. And the idea that they got two stars from the Times is frankly ridiculous.

First big problem: the markup on their wine list is completely out of control. They're selling some of the cheapest wines Spain exports, that retail in stores in the USA for $7-$9, for a minimum of $47 a bottle. I know 3 or 4 times the price is standard, but this is really really pushing it. The weird thing is that some of the more expensive bottles have a much lower markup and some have the same outrageous 6 or 7 times retail markup. I would prefer that they just sell expensive bottles that are good value rather than fleecing people on the cheapest wines available from Spain. I was insulted. I guess the assumption is that American wine consumers are not sophisticated enough to observe and/or protest against this kind of BS. The whole thing left a very bad taste in my mouth. Though I must say that the $62 Priorat we eventually chose was pretty decent--and only marked up 3 times over retail.

The food was just okay. I liked the Patatas Bravas a lot, though the potato cubes were way too small. The anchovy/avocado montadito combo was tasty, if lifted from Pinotxo in Barcelona. The pulpo was a bit tough but not bad tasting. The pan con tomate, which they called, strangely, in Catalan pa amb oli, which means bread with oil, when it was obviously meant to be pa amb tomaquet, bread with tomatoes. Nomenclature aside, it was no good. Basically the Spanish and Catalan bread with tomatoes uses a light coating of tomato, usually rubbed on the bread, accompnaied by olive oil and salt. This version was basically grilled bread covered in pureed tomatoes which were not, themselves, very ripe or tasty. The charcuterie trio was mediocre. Meats were too cold and I don't think they were freshly sliced for the plate. There was not enough bread to eat them with. The crujiente was also kind of blah. The dessert was okay: torrijas. I think it would have been better warm. We opted to wait to order mains until we tasted the tapas. The waiter kept pressing us for the mains order. No wonder: he knew after we had the tapas that we'd probably be reluctant to drop $30 - $40 on an entree.

I know there is supposed to be some Basque chef behind this place, but stuff like the pan con tomate makes me really wonder. I can't believe anyone from Spain, or the Basque country, would serve something like that.

I saw this place recommended on this board as an alternative to Casa Mono. It's not even close to Casa Mono by any metric except maybe party people ambience.

I got the feeling that my initial suspicion was correct: it's a place that's much more about the atmosphere and crowd than about the food or wine. Too bad.

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