The other night I dined at Estragon in the South End. It was close to 9:30 and there was still about a 10 minute wait for a table. Usually this is a good indicator of what's to come but unfortunately on this evening, this wasn't the case. We were starving and after being seated, we quickly ordered 4 different items from various sections of the menu. It wasn't long before our food started to arrive and the Tortilla Espanol ($5.50) was the first to meet the end of my fork. Swimming in a puddle of aioli and served with a chill, the dense potato slices were the main attraction and the eggs were simply the glue that held them all together. I'll be the first to admit that I'm a snob when it comes to Spanish food and maybe I hold the bar a little too high, but these were a far cry from a real Spanish tortilla where there's more eggs and it has a lightness to it made richer with olive oil.
Croquetas de Jamon
The next to arrive were the Croquetas de Jamon ($10). Advertised as having a Serano ham filling, the golden exteriors revealed an unpleasant pasty interior where I had to hunt for minuscule bits of ham, that once found, offered little flavor anyway - a total fail. Next to arrive at our table was the Flamenquines ($11) which are four rolled, little sticks of fried pork, Serano ham and Manchego cheese that tasted like an under seasoned chicken cordon bleu (only with pork). It was served along with a wedge of lemon and a sauce that tasted of tomato paste, water and a just a hint of hot paprika. While the Flamenquines were fried well, they would have benefited greatly from a a couple of pinches of salt after being fried.
The biggest disappointment of the evening was the Vegetable Paella ($22). The vegetables were grossly overcooked and almost grey in color. Additionally, they were not prepared properly and somehow the woody stems of the asparagus had made their way to our plate. The Paella rice was under-cooked and over-salted, not to mention missing that coveted crusty bottom that is so desirable.
To add insult to injury, while our waiter was clearing almost full plates from our table, and when declining to have the food wrapped to go, he never questioned us on how our meal was or asked if we were satisfied. Instead, we were given a smile and the check. After a meal like this, I couldn't help but feel duped and brimming with a lot of questions. How could the kitchen send food out like that? How could the waiter not ask us why we weren't eating? Was this just an "off" night or is this how the food is prepared? And if it was in fact an "off" night, is that acceptable when the customer is paying a pretty heavy price for the experience? While I can appreciate that it is difficult to execute every dish with perfection, however, we ordered four different dishes and were disappointed by all. An evening similar to this happens every so often and it's frustrating. Where are the standards?