ENRIQUE TOMAS: WORK IN PROGRESS
by Andrew Chalk
On the busy knuckle joint on Henderson Avenue opposite the 7-11 is the first US outpost of Enrique Tomas, a Spanish restaurant chain with over 100 locations flung over three continents. You would expect such an established brand to bring the kind of well-worn proficiency that I found at Monarch a month ago, as well as an implant’s fresh ideas on food.
In both respects you will be disappointed. Enrique Tomas (ET, hereafter) exhibits all the sophomoric failings in execution you would find in a culinary student summer project.
I was hopeful for Modern Spanish cuisine. There is no doubt that Dallas is simply plain weak in the Modern Spanish restaurant arena but when Omar Flores tried it with Casa Rubia he just met a perplexed disbelief from an unappreciative public.
Their problem is that with so many steak houses providing Texas’s comfort food with service fit for a Tsar, ET’s shortcomings are glaring.
For a start, approach the entrance desk for your first on-site impression and the person staffing it appears to be a barely post-teen wearing a scruffy hoodie! Maybe he thinks this is cool? ‘Like Mark Zuckerburg, but without the billions, doood’. But other than the waiter at the deservedly closed Belly and Trumpet who went shoeless and sockless it is the most out-of-place ‘uniform’ I have ever seen at a Dallas restaurant. Is this the 'First Impression'
that ET wants to create? Casual staff dress is much harder to do than formal and these clowns should have spoken to a master of the art like Stephan Pyles in order to get it right.
Then there was the waitress who was a nice person but harder to track than the wreckage of MH370. She said she was new, but the problem was that she did not seem trained.
The food was supposedly the result of decades of international experience but it broke new ground for us by showing that ET could not cook broccoli. It was not ‘al dente’, it was al’s brother, al concrete. Somehow, nobody had tested it to see if it was worth the $19.50 they planned to charge us. Broccoli is so simple to cook that only attention to detail matters. If this kitchen is not paying attention to detail then it is symptomatic of a bigger problem.
I will give them credit for the Homemade Jamón Croquettes, Granny’s Recipe ($12 for five croquettes). Granny knows how to make a croquette powerfully flavored and both crunchy and gooey. Likewise the ET take on fries (as in Secreto Ibérico Burguer, $19.75) is chopped up potatoes seeded with paprika and cooked in oil that, although short of being made in
duck fat, are pleasantly addicting. The Secreto Ibérico Burguer itself was an example of poor dish design. Great to taste a burger of premium Bellota beef, but the white bread bun and the side of fries made it so dry as to become monotonous to work through. At least double the aioli side.
Salmon with Gratin Alioli and Mediterranean Vegetables ($19.50) was the dish with the Kevlar broccoli and was otherwise unremarkable (everyone has salmon).
Undoubtedly the main focus is to get you to try the by-the-slice jamon at $10 to $20 an ounce. This justifiably famous ham frequently beats better known hams like Parma ham at trade competitions.
The wine list, while strong on Spanish reds, betrays the Olympian attitudes that the ET Meg harbors towards us hicks. It is almost entirely Spanish with a few California crowd-pleasers included as punctuation. I pseudo-naively asked what Texas wines they had, noting that tempranillo (Spain’s most famous grape) is arguably the best red grape here. Waitress-nouvelle consulted the beverage manager who humored me with a suggestion of a bottle of a Spanish tempranillo. If I did the market selection for ET I would get some facts about the market beyond the platitude ‘they eat a lot of steak’. One Texas winemaker welcomes you to his tasting room not just with his wine, but with a comparison tasting of his base wine with Bodegas Muga, and his top-of-the-line with Numanthia. That is where tempranillo is in Texas.
I confined my wine consumption to one glass of an excellent Rioja reserva (Via Pomal Reserva), at $15. The retail price of a bottle is $19. Bottle markups on the list run at about 300% of retail.
I and the moll skipped the skimpy dessert list, concluding that ET’s elevated prices and poor service meant that we were better off elsewhere. It was full on a Saturday night but it remains to be seen if this persists beyond the newness and the post-COVID reopening. I hope they can eliminate skateboard boy and turn it around. They have work to do.
WONDERING WHAT ALL THE FUSS IS ABOUT MODERN SPANISH CUISINE? HERE IS THE ART OF THE POSSIBLE