Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A salmon fiasco and berry surprise at Serafina

Last night I went out to dinner with my team from work. We were looking for a place near our office, so we ended up at Serafina at the Time Hotel. I had been there once before when it first opened; the restaurant was completely, embarassingly unable to handle the large group that was my extended family. It was sort of a disaster. So-- I was back.

The thing that's heartbreaking about Serafina is that it promises so much and delivers so little. It looks sleek and chic from the outside, but then you get in and it looks like the Cheesecake Factory. It IS Times Square, but still...

And the menu is extensive and appealing. Our group of six, one of the only parties in the restaurant, claimed a table near the wood-burning oven, and we read over the lengthy menu. After placing our orders we gladly received baskets of bread, which looked crusty and delicious but turned out to be chewy, bland, and somewhat stale. The thimble-sized dishes of sprightly olive oil they provided for dipping were certainly the bright spot here.

You can sort of see the staleness on the cut side

On to our entrees, which were delivered in a timely manner. BR got the rigatoni alla bolognese, which he said was pretty good. But as he put it, how can you mess that up?

Bolognese, a little lopsided

JW got the steak frites, which came accompanied by little slices of veggies artfully fanned out across the plate. He said it was average to slightly below average. The fries looked a little anemic as well.

The veggies get pride of place here

SP and our partner GdT both got the salmon. It was impressively presented, with a lot of vertical reach in the garnish area. SP spoke for both of them when she upgraded her initial "very good" rating to "excellent" by the end of the meal. GdT particularly commended the lentil salad that formed the bed for the fish.

An actually beautiful dish

AZ and I ordered the same salad, the Chopra, which came with mixed greens, pears, cherry tomatoes, corn, asparagus, and walnuts. AZ held the walnuts and replaced it with animal protein. At first, she asked for salmon-- this was after our two teammates had ordered salmon-- and they said they had no salmon. Okay. Right. AZ was pissed, but she settled for chicken as a replacement.

When the salads arrived, the orders were correct-- dressings on the side and all that--but they were just uninspired. Mine was overwhelmed by corn with a dearth of other ingredients, and AZ's was overwhelmed by "completely unseasoned" chicken (which looked as though it had been poached, not even grilled or anything). There was also a small bit of chicken in my salad, which isn't cool. Meh.

The meaty version

The veggie version, lacking a lot of veggies

So--that was that for the entrees. Half of us had success; half of us had mediocre food. But there was always dessert- an opportunity to redeem the whole meal. I wasn't in the mood for dessert so I asked what kind of teas they had. Our waiter responded with, "Uhhh," and then asked the runner standing nearby, who also didn't know. They both ran around for a little bit and then returned with a tea box, which didn't have anything I wanted, but I went for mint tea nonetheless. It was mediocre.

But others indulged. BR went for the chocolate souffle, which I assumed would be, you know, a souffle. Instead, it was a chocolate cake. Not even a molten chocolate cake-- to which BR, being a fellow fan of Finale, naturally compared it. Not exactly truth in advertising there.

Ceci n'est pas un souffle

JW went for the Tiramisu. It was huge and gooey and he said it was good, but this morning he reported it made him feel so gross he went directly to the gym afterwards. How anyone could work out after that is beyond me, but props to you, JW. That's dedication.

Tiramisu, in brick form

GdT went for the apple pie. He enjoyed it-- but it didn't look like any apple pie I've ever seen. It looked like mille crepes, actually, but apparently it was appley and delicious. I must report, though, that GdT was miffed that his scoop of ice cream was about half the size of BR's.

What is it that's holding the apples together like that? I'm confused.

SP went for the nutella crepes. She raved about these, but again, it's just really hard to mess up a nutella crepe. At least they weren't bad, I guess.

An easy win

Finally, AZ attempted to order a plate of mixed berries. Both the waiter and runner told her no. And AZ was even more pissed, especially after the whole salmon incident. Then when the desserts arrived, the waiter showed up with a plate of berries. Ooookay. Granted, it was one of the silliest, most anemic-looking "desserts" I've ever seen offered in a restaurant, but I suppose it was indeed a plate of berries. I'm sorry, but I can't really give them credit for this. I mean, really.

When you can count the individual berry slivers, there aren't that many on here.

I will also note that there was altogether too much sticky decorative swirling on these dessert plates, which, as AZ noted, got all over your sleeve as you tried to eat whatever was in the center of the plate.

So- while we had a very enjoyable dinner, talking and relaxing, I just can't give Serafina more than two Offset Spatulas. I've had two dinners there, and it always sounds as though it's going to be really good-- but the service is at best apathetic and at worst clumsy, and the food always sounds better than it is. It's too bad; there's potential there, but it's unrealized. If you're ever forced to eat in the Times Square area, take the walk over to Ninth Avenue instead-- it's worth the time to get some much better food.

224 W. 49th Street, between Broadway and 8th Avenue

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