We had childcare on Friday night, so The Wife was tasked with choosing a restaurant. A lousy week at work combined with the fear of selecting the wrong eatery (Side note: This has happened before. I give her the responsibility of picking a place and we end up at an overpriced establishment with below par food and watered-down drinks) left her rendered her decisionless and left me holding the clubs. And, since I was buying, I decided to go down the list of places I have wanted to go but, for whatever reason, have not tried.
I read about Zabroso some years back in the dining section of The Post-Standard. Chef-owner Ruben Lopez came to Upstate New York to open Rodizio — the now-shuttered Brazilian steakhouse at the Turning Stone Resort Casino — before hanging out his own shingle with Zabroso. Spanish by birth, raised in Puerto Rico and educated at the Culinary Institute of America, Lopez focuses mainly on traditional Spanish dishes, fusing Latin American touches throughout the menu.
Our 6 p.m. reservation was unnecessary as the crowd was fairly light on Friday evening. The host manning the door would end up being our server. He was nice enough, but had only a basic knowledge of the menu. He struggled to explain facets of our dishes and those at neighboring tables.
Since The Wife dropped The Ball on The Where of the evening, I put a more important task in her hands: The How. Zabrosos two-sided menu starts with a list of a dozen or so tapas, or small plates to share. The flipside has a similar number of entrees as well as a special tapas for two selection — four choices from the front side of the menu, two desserts and two non-alcoholic beverages for $60. Our drinks were already ordered — a pomegranate martini for The Wife and an Ommegang Three Philosophers for me — and served. After some deliberation, The Wife decided that we were having tapas, not the paella (a house specialty made with chorizo and shrimp). We each picked two and then added two more:
- Shrimp al ajillo: Eight medium shrimp served in a garlic, onion and paprika broth that could have stood on its own, and merited a couple of extra rolls for mopping.
- Beef empanadas: I’ve never had a bad empanada and this may have been one of the best. It looked like it came from a processing plant with its tight fold and uniform fork marks to pinch the dough. But, the meat was clearly prepared in house and featured a rich umami present in most of the other dishes.
- Tostones: The best tostones I ever were served at Cuba Libre. “Were” is the operative word. These were light, thin and had a crispier consistency than the Cuban version that I enjoyed in Washington, D.C. The fried plantain chips were drizzled with chimichurri sauce, which was less of an accoutrement and more of an ingredient of the chip, as it was absorbed fully.
- Fresh goat cheese and tomato dip: Served in a small crock, lumps of goat cheese were roasted in a Spanish-style tomato sauce. There was a strong smoky flavor that complemented the creamy chevre beautifully. Served with homemade pita chips, the dip was equally as good when the plantains were dipped in it.
- Mussels ‘n’ cream: Probably the weakest of the dishes. The mussels were just slightly overcooked. It’s tough not to judge mussels after having them prepared perfectly at Moro’s Table and Pesce. The bacon and brandy cream sauce was perfect and worthy of the extra rolls for mopping.
- Meat and cheese sampler: We wrapped on this dish. Our waiter had a lot of difficulty identifying what was served on the board. He knew there was Serrano ham and pieces of guava. He guessed correctly that the four chunks of cheese were manchego. As for the blue-veined soft white cheese, the best he could muster was “and this is some sort of bleu cheese.” Sigh. That said, I’ve never had Serrano that tasted this good or Manchego that was this creamy.
Our waiter cleared the plates and stood there in awkward silence, knowing that he was supposed to do something and that we were waiting to hear him offer dessert. Finally, he got over the hump and reminded us that we did get dessert with the tapas, rattling off a menu of warm chocolate cake, flan and tres leches cake (he pronounced it in the French tray lay-says, which is odd for a Spanish restaurant). The flan was a traditional egg custard, topped with almonds and served on a plate in its own sweet evaporated milk-sugar mixture. I’m a believer that there is no such thing as bad flan, so this was a winner. The Wife’s tres leches cake left something to be desired, for her at least. Typically, this is a butter cake soaked in three types of milk — condensed, evaporated and cream. Somewhere along the line, Zabroso introduced coconut milk. The Wife, God love her, has a radar for coconut and immediately displayed the face of disenfranchisement. It was good, but she was disappointed.
We were never offered coffee.
So, the verdict on Zabroso? Excellent food. Middling service. If the tapas were that good, I want to go back for paella. Tonight.
Zabroso Restaurant and Lounge is located at 3960 Sconondoa Rd. in Oneida, about five miles south of the Turning Stone Casino Resort. They are open for dinner Wednesday through Saturday after 5 p.m. Reservations are accepted. Dinner for two with drinks was $96 before tip.