El Bolero: Clueless service. Forgetable food.
by Andrew Chalk
A recent lunchtime reservation at El Bolero was the worst meal I have had for some time in Dallas, with not a single high spot to offset the many lows.
We arrived at our table to find it rocked like a rowing boat in a typhoon. This was glaringly obvious, but nobody on the staff had bothered to fix it before guests arrived. They let the guests be their beta testers.
After ten minutes we had to flag down the front-of-house manager to find out why nobody had visited our table. No water, no menus, no salsa, no welcome. He didn't know (and it didn't seem to concern him anyway) but after another few minutes someone, who said he was our waiter, stopped by. Not unfriendly, not friendly, barely sentient as far as I could tell.
We got menus, and before he disappeared again, placed our orders. Some chips and salsa arrived. The chips were adequate (maybe the best thing in the whole meal!) but the salsa was anemic. Haemopheliac chipotle, apparently from a jar.
Some 25 minutes after our arrival we received the first appetizer - Coctel de Camaron ($14). The diminutive size of this thing makes it twice as expensive as the coctel at Mariscos La Reyna on Fitzhugh (ironically, just three hundred yards from where El Bolero's other branch went out of business last year). What it lacked in size this dish makes up for in those cheap wafers -- no fewer than three packs of them, all of which remained unopened. The shrimp almost went the same way. They looked pretty, climbing over the rim of the glass, but they were utterly devoid of taste.
After another long wait came the first main course: Enchiladas de Pollo con Mole ($14) featuring dry, tasteless chicken stuffed into two tortillas and topped with an adequate mole sauce. This was on a bed of dry, tasteless, unimaginative white rice. Placing it on a white plate created a featureless landscape that seemed to be a metaphor for the contrasts in the meal. A few sorry strands of red onions were littered over the top. The whole thing was so bland and boringly monotonous that I did not finish it. Who is in charge of menu development at El Bolero? This course has just not been thought through (or it was built to a price). At $14 it is worth way less.
My dining companion's main course arrived ten minutes after mine. Chile Relleno de Jaiba ($21) harked back to the better dishes that I experienced when I went to El Bolero shortly after it opened. The filling contained sweet lump crab meat all kept moist with a light yellow crema de calabaza.
A long wait processing the bill of this intricately difficult meal produced the last faut-pas of the day - the restaurant did not know how to process an OpenTable rewards card (Opentable later told me they had tried to process it as a credit card. OpenTable does hands-on, in-person training of staff so this ineptitude was inexcusable).
Since the reopening I have seen restaurants spring back confidently and with a warm welcome. El Bolero is not one of them.
Note: I paid for my own meal and dined anonymously.