When Seny opened earlier this year in East Walnut Hills, executive chef Travis D. Maier's concept was refreshingly high-minded for such a Middle American city as ours. After studying his craft in the Basque region, Maier constructed a menu that combined traditional Spanish tapas with molecular gastronomic techniques, offering dishes that include strange textures, infusions, foam and emulsions.
Yes. Foam. Right here in Cincinnati.
Just reading the dinner menu, which is separated into a traditional menu and a more experimental section featuring modern interpretations of Spanish cuisine, is an experience in itself. My dining companion and I decide to order a serving of Paella (market price) and sample some molecular gastronomy until it arrives.
Upon ordering the paella, served in portions large enough for two people to share, our server informs us there was none left. "Sometimes 10 people order it on any given night," he says, shrugging, "and sometimes 20 people order it, but tonight we've already had close to 30 people order it." This is disappointing.
I don't manage a restaurant offering authentic Spanish cuisine, but if I did, I'd make sure I didn't run out of a signature dish by 7 p.m. on a Wednesday night.
With these constraints in mind, my review of the paella is as follows: It looks quite good when it is brought to the table next to ours; it is yellow; there are mussels in it; other people are eating it. Of course, now that I can't have it, the only thing I want is paella. Meanwhile, the people at the table behind me are scooping spoonfuls onto their plates and laughing a little too much.
We order the Charcuterie ($10) instead, and try the Bacon and Eggs ($5), the Patatas Bravas ($4) served with a spicy salsa brava and a couple of glasses of Sangria ($7/glass or $25/pitcher). One early complaint: Our server says he'd like to get us started on some water, and then asks if we'd prefer sparkling or still. When I reply that I really just want still water, I'm trying to say that I want tap water and that I find the idea of buying water ridiculous when it comes out of the faucet for free. So I'm annoyed when the server cracks open an overpriced bottle of Evian ($6) and pours it for us before I can object.
Otherwise, the service is friendly and efficient, and the staff is on hand to recommend dishes that complement and build on top of one another. Besides tasting wonderful, the charcuterie approaches art. Carefully arranged on a white rectangular plate, cuts of Spanish chorizo, Carpaccio, salami and Serrano ham served with caper berries and gherkins form a glistening palette of bright reds and pinks, marbled with creamy soft veins of fat. The flavors and combination of textures are wonderful.
The bacon and eggs are also visually arresting: two miniscule rashers of bacon carefully lie on either side of a bright green, softly-cooked egg yolk, which has been infused with an herb emulsion. A tentative taste of the green yolk brings a rush of flavors, almost a sensation instead of a taste, of sage and rosemary. It is an unusual and memorable experience. Perhaps the only disappointment is that two spoonfuls later it is gone. The patatas bravas, a more traditional Spanish dish, are delicious and satisfying.
The Fried and Espresso-Spiced Calamari ($9) is wonderful, with its subtle coffee-flavored batter, served atop preserved oyster mushroom salad. The Slow Roasted Mushrooms are unremarkable ($7), and when I see the four small mushrooms on the plate, I can't help but feel that perhaps a few fell off on the way from the kitchen. By the time the Marinated and Braised Pork Belly ($25) arrives, it is cool, gelatinous and not entirely pleasant. Unlike the mushrooms, I actually find myself relieved by the small size of the pork belly, which is paltry and could easily be hidden in the palm of my hand if I was unusual enough to want to do so.
I'm an enthusiastic supporter of reductions in serving sizes but believe smaller portions should relieve our wallets as well as our belts. For a communal cuisine like tapas, I can imagine large groups arguing over who gets to eat a mushroom and carefully dissecting a tiger shrimp. This is, I suppose, paying the food a complement, and for the most part it is delicious and innovative, if overpriced and undersized.
For dessert, we try Sopa ($6), a yoghurt soup, with mint oil and candied asparagus and fennel and also the Postre (dessert) Tapas ($6), a selection of petit fours, including a creme brulee-filled strawberry and an apricot sponge. I am not taken with the sopa. I'd hoped that its preparation would allow me to taste something new and different in the asparagus, but it really doesn't taste candied at all. It tastes like asparagus. And it's in my dessert.
Go: 1544 Madison Road, East Walnut Hills
Hours: Lunch: 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Monday-Friday; dinner: 5:30-10 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. (Reservations are recommended.)
Prices: Entrees: $17-$28; tapas: $4-$16
Payment: Major credit cards
Red Meat Alternatives: Some vegetarian options
Accessibility: Fully accessible