“Nada” in Spanish means “nothing”. “De Nada” is a term for “You’re welcome”. The latter suggests hospitality, a welcoming environment. The former, is well, you know. I was curious about the inspiration for the Ohio Mexican restaurant’s title – why it was missing the preposition? Was there some other inspiration? Certainly “nothing” seemed appropriate after sampling the fare on opening night at its Arena District Columbus location. When you check out the menu, it sure reads like a killer take on a tacqueria. But alas, they were just words on a page.
Now the restaurant itself looked quite lovely. The decor is nice, and the Arena District location will surely be a nice spot surrounding the Blue Jacket hockey games. The bar was good – and my cocktail (I got a Caipinriha) was excellent, certainly indicative of why Brazilians swear by the stuff. We were lucky enough to sneak onto the community table without a reservation. It was noisy, as you’d expect for a first night – but certainly pleasant. Seeing as we were out with proper babysitting help, this was promising. And then, the food started.
Normally this is the point where I’d start to talk about the meal in chronological order. That would work here, but frankly every dish – one after the other – just lacked …. Actually, that previous sentence seems sufficient right there. Now, I am no expert, but I have been to this neck of the woods frequently with my own family situation. I have had meals which seemed inspired by the Hickory Farms catalog; I have had meals with people who complained that piquillo peppers were much too spicy, and I have eaten chili with cinnamon in it. So maybe asking for explosion was just me being naive. It sure seemed like I could taste the commerce compromises throughout, as if the executive chef peered over the ledge at true flavor and decided to back away because it won’t play in Central Ohio. That is how you get :
- An habanero-garlic salsa which was much more evocative of Italian Salad Dressing than any sort of habanero anything (not even sneaky building hot).
- A chips and salsa trio where the most prominent flavor was of extremely oversalted fried FLOUR tortilla.
- Tortilla soup with a thicker, “squash soup” sort of consistency. (which made the avacado garnish rather amusing)
- Barbacoa (braised beef) Tacos: listed with pickled onions that had zero brininess
- A shave ribeye and crema taco which tasted suspiciously like a steak and cheese.
- Tacos coming mostly on flour tortillas (i shake my fist indignantly)
All of these dishes had the promise of boldness – but resulted in the sort of timidity I have come to expect in my travels in this part of the world. Considering the tacos cost $6.50 a pop, I was grateful that the drink was good. The service was nice and the management was pleasant. But it would be nice to see a place like this take the leap and count on the smart consumers to join the ride.