Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Bite American Tapas

As you know from my posts last week, I was recently up in Tahoe for a few days.  Summary: Tahoe is great, but culinary mecca it is not.  I had some ok breakfast, and some crappy fish and chips.  But I didn't really have high hopes for those establishments in the first place.

However, when I asked for recommendations of places to eat near Incline Village, one place kept coming up: Bite American Tapas.  The Yelp reviews were great, but I really don't trust Yelpers, particularly when it comes to something that can be seen as gimmicky, like tapas.  ZOMG!  Something different!  5 stars!  But other people whose options I valued also recommended it, so I was eager to check it out.

They do not take reservations for groups less than 6, so when we arrived at 7pm on a Saturday, I wasn't shocked that there was a 30 minute wait to get seated in the dining room.  But they offered the full menu at the bar, and as there were only two of us, we decided to just sit there instead.

The bar was large, with seating on all sides.  It was a beautiful wooden surface, although we quickly discovered that it was a bit awkward to eat at, as it had an edge on it that made it impossible to get close to it.  And there were no purse hooks.

Service was good enough, but the meal was a flop.  The food wasn't great, but the real issue is that one of our dishes (scallops) arrived cold.  The scallops and the accompaniments were all so cold, that I actually wondered that maybe we were just wrong in expecting a warm dish.  When I questioned it, the server told us that yes, it was supposed to be warm, and she'd have it fixed.  When the dish came back a little while later, it was clear that they had just re-heated the same portion, and the scallops, which were originally a fairly perfect level of doneness, were now rubbery and way overcooked.  Re-firing scallops is never a good idea :( And the potatoes still had my fork marks in them, so I think they were just placed under a heating lamp.  The dish was pretty nasty in its re-heated form, and no apology was made at any point, and nothing was done to make up for this.  Definite customer service miss.  Perhaps if we'd been in the main dining room these issues wouldn't have come up?  I'm not sure if food gets delivered differently to the bar, perhaps it was just sitting in the pass longer than it would have if going to a regular server?  Perhaps a regular server would be more adept at handling issues like this?  I'm sure I could have brought it up when the bill came, but I was just pretty disappointed and didn't feel like causing problems.

I was really saddened by this experience, as I said, Bite came highly recommended.  But also, I have some friends getting married in a few weeks in a week-long extravaganza in Incline Village, and I was eager to go back with large groups during that time, since everything they do at Bite is designed to be shared, and there were so many things on the menu that I wanted to try!  People have been asking me for recommendations for dining during the wedding week, and I just don't know what to say.
Ahi Sliders with Arugula, Pickled Ginger & Wasabi Aioli.  $14.
Bite has a slew of sliders available, ranging from classic beef burgers, to short rib, to even duck confit or crusted goat cheese.  They are all highly recommended, but the version that stood out both to my tastes, and from great reviews, were the ahi sliders.  They come two to an order, so they were a great choice for two of us to share.

The slider buns looked boring, but were actually pretty tasty, nicely grilled and warm, a bit broiche-like.         They turned out to be the best part of the dish.

I did not taste the pickled ginger mentioned in the description.  What I tasted the most was not included in the description at all: an insane amount of soy (teriyaki?) sauce.  Now, I love sauces, but this was not good.  The slider was literally dripping in the stuff.  It killed every other flavor in the dish.   I couldn’t taste anything besides the horrible sweet sauce.

Each slider had 3 slices of nicely seared ahi, served cold.  I didn’t really like the flavor of the ahi though, even when I managed to extract a little from the sauce.  Maybe that is why they drowned it in sauce?

There was a tiny bit of wasabi aioli, and I think it would have been really nice with the ahi, but like everything else, it was lost in the soy sauce.

I would never get this dish again, it was my least favorite of the night, but it made me interested in the other sliders since the bun was so good.

$14 was a good price for the sliders, as they contained a total of 6 slices of what should have been sushi grade ahi.
Pan Seared Sea Scallops with Yukon Whipped Potato & Brandy Mustard Cream Sauce. $14.
Next we moved on to the aforementioned doomed scallops, from the "small plates" section of the menu.  These were described as the size of a typical entree, just without sides.

There were two large sea scallops, each cut in half, served atop whipped potatoes, with some sort of oil.  The dish looked good, and the plate was warm, but the scallops were cold, and the potatoes were even colder.

As I mentioned, we told the server, and she took the dish back to re-fire.  I wish I'd taken a photo of the dish when it came back, so you could see how overcooked the scallops were after being re-fired.

The scallops were originally medium, although with no real sear on them, but fairly nicely cooked.  If they weren't cold, I would have been happy enough with them.  When they came back however, they had more of a sear, and were hot, but were completely overcooked and totally rubbery.  Who re-fires seared scallops?  Not good.

The yukon whipped potatoes were unremarkable, not very creamy, just mashed potatoes.  Originally cold and off-putting, better once reheated.

As for the brandy mustard cream sauce ... I couldn't find it in the dish.  There was a sauce, and it was creamy, but it had no flavor, and certainly was not mustard.   There was also a green oil sauce, I'm not sure what it was, as it was left off the description as well.

Overall, no part of this was very good, and it certainly didn’t come together.  It had the potential to be a good dish, and I wonder how it would have been if delivered fresh originally.

$14 again seemed like a fine price for a dish this size that uses premium ingredients.
Warm Apple Turnover Bites with Crème Anglaise. $8.
We pondered ordering more savory dishes, as there were a number of items that I did still want to try, but at this point, we were pretty underwhelmed.  You know me though, I couldn't resist ordering dessert.

The server said this was the dessert she always recommended, and the Yelpers agreed.  Amusingly, I almost went for the bread pudding instead, because the description said it was served a la mode, and I just adore warm desserts with ice cream.  I even considered asking for ice cream with the turnovers, since warm apple pie and ice cream is just so good.  But Ojan loves crème anglaise, and I was curious how turnover bites and crème anglaise could possibly be served together, so we just went for the standard dessert.

Like all of their desserts, it came as a set of four.  Four little apple turnovers, topped with a drizzle of crème anglaise, a drizzle of caramel, and … a big scoop of vanilla ice cream in the middle!

The turnovers were indeed warm (bonus points!), but they just weren’t very good.  Lots of dough, that was not flaky nor crispy nor buttery nor anything remarkable.  The filling was just mush, not very flavorful, and the apples were tiny little cubes.

As I said, the description on the menu only listed the crème anglaise as an accompaniment, so I was surprised to find just a little drizzle of it over the turnovers, totally lost.  I wasn't sure what to expect really, but I did think it would be more dominent.  There was just as much, if not more, caramel as crème anglaise, and it wasn't listed.  It was pretty standard, sweet.

And then there was the surprise scoop of ice cream, which I was thrilled by, but I was puzzled by what process they use to decide what to put on the menu.  The huge scoop of ice cream?  Not listed, but the tiny drizzle of crème anglaise was?  Same with the crazy soy sauce on the sliders, the most dominent feature, not listed.  Anyway.  The ice cream was unremarkable, slightly crystalized, vanilla I guess.  But I do love cold ice cream with my hot pie, so bonus points for that.

But overall, this was just not good.  I didn’t even bother finish the last turnover.  And I always finish desserts.

Like all of their prices, $8 was a good price for the size dessert.
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