I fired off an IM off to Kat:
“Kat – have you heard about Siena Tavern, Fabio’s new restaurant that’s opening this weekend?” I asked.
“THE Fabio?!” she instantly and enthusiastically replied.
“Hahaha, not that Fabio,” I shot back – “Fabio Viviani, former Top Chef contestant.”
“Yeah… Fabio Viviani,” she said. “Who did you think I was referring to?”
I guess I neglected to realize in that moment that to a foodie like Kat, Chef Fabio would come to mind before supermodel and romance novel cover model Fabio. And why wouldn’t he? He’s a handsome, charming, polite, gregarious, chef. Swoon.
15 minutes later, I had miraculously secured a reservation for Kat, myself, and three of our friends on the following Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. I write miraculously because according to OpenTable, the next available evening reservation for more than 2 people wasn’t until mid-March.
Our three friends arrived shortly before Kat and me. I fully expected to walk into the restaurant and see them standing there, either annoyed because they were refused the opportunity to be seated without our complete party present (wrong) or because the reservations would be running a bit behind due to the hosting kinks that any new restaurant has to work out in its initial week of opening (wrong again). Not only had our friends been seated, but they had drinks in hand and were all smiles when we arrived at the table. I’d say that was a pretty good start to the evening. It’s worth noting that the space itself is beautiful and much larger than I had anticipated.
Kat and I received our drinks shortly thereafter and silence fell over the table as we poured over the menu. We came to a consensus on appetizers fairly quickly – I’m not sure if that’s because we were all starving or because everything on the menu looked fantastic (or a combination of both?), but we ultimately decided on the following:
- Focaccia Bread (our server explained that the bread is different every day – that day, it happened to have parmesan baked into the crust, and it was served with olive oil).
- Grilled octopus
- Kobe meatball
The bread, served with fruity extra virgin olive oil, was simple and delicious but it was almost comical that it came to the table in four slices when there were clearly 5 of seated at the table. It’s not that I expect the kitchen to tailor the number of slices to the number of people at the table, but knowing the serving size, I believe the server should have recommended we order two loaves as opposed to two people having to share a slice – we would have happily obliged.
The grilled octopus was beautiful. It was tender and flavorful, and it was served with thinly sliced duck fat-fried new potatoes. I wouldn’t normally think to serve octopus with potatoes, but it was probably the most delicious, memorable bite of the evening for me.
The meatball was a big hit – it was literally the size of a softball and was extremely juicy and well-seasoned. Definitely a fan favorite, and it was fun to pass it around, cutting off pieces. Rustic, humble, and family style – Italian food is at its best, in my opinion.
Mussels and clams and shrimp, oh my!
We all ordered a different entrée. I had the seafood brodetto, which is a seafood lover’s dream come true. It is a giant bowl filled to the brim with mussels, shrimp, clams, and generous-sized hunks of sea bass, all perched atop a pool of tomato broth. The broth was billed as being “spicy,” but I didn’t sense any heat whatsoever, so I think someone at Siena needs to rethink the definition of spicy, but the seafood was great. The brodetto was served with two slices of grilled bread with “green pepper aioli,” but the aioli was underwhelming – it didn’t taste of green pepper to me. It didn’t taste of anything to me other than garlic, actually, but I like garlic, so it wasn’t off-putting, just an unnecessary addition to the bread, I thought.
Kat had the squid ink linguini, which was tossed in a lobster cream sauce and came with a whole lobster tail – it was definitely the winning dish of the evening: delicious, and quite the value at $22.00.
The other dishes ordered were the sea bass, the butternut squash tortellaci, and the gnocchi with pancetta. Our friend who ordered the sea bass said it was his favorite dish at the the table. The tortellaci were good, but they were entirely too sweet; I would recommend this dish being ordered as an appetizer or dish to pass during the main course rather than being ordered as an entrée. The gnocchi were a disappointment – gnocchi are supposed to be soft and airy–like fluffy little pillows. These dumplings were so heavy and drowning in a rich, creamy sauce with greasy, salty pancetta that I couldn’t imagine taking more than one bite. The dish screamed for acid of some kind – tomatoes, maybe some lemon juice—something. Unfortunately, it was just a one-note, unappetizing dish that resembled heavy-handed macaroni and cheese.
So overall, it was a nice meal. There were just a couple of missteps, most notably the gnocchi. The other misstep, oddly enough, is that we experienced over-attentive, bordering on uncomfortable, service from two different managers who took it upon themselves to stop by our table between courses, completely unsolicited, to introduce themselves, apologize for what they called “slow service,” and thank us for our “patience.” The truth is, gentlemen, while we appreciated your introductions and your obvious commitment to service and desire to please your guests, we didn’t even notice a problem. We were so engaged in our own conversation and enjoying our drinks that had you not repeatedly called attention to the fact that were waiting on something, we wouldn’t have thought twice about it. Now, it would be one thing if we were looking around anxiously or annoyed, making eye contact with you, or asking our server what the delay was, but we did no such thing, so why the repeated visits and apologies? Our server, however, was fantastic – he was friendly, attentive, accurate, and knowledgeable, yet unobtrusive.
Gumballhead. Nectar of the Gods.
The mixed drinks were lovely, by the way. I think that between the 5 of us we managed to order almost every drink on the menu, and I don’t remember anyone having anything negative to say about those. After dinner, I chose to forgo desert in favor of having a beer, and I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed by the limited craft beer selection. I was pleasantly surprised, however, to see Three Floyds’ Gumballhead on tap (which you don’t see too often), so I ordered that and immediately forgot about my initial sads about the beer list. My only complaint other than this and the overly-attentive service is that someone kept messing with the volume of the music, and it was very noticeable. It would go from loud to quiet back to loud in the span of a few minutes, which was distracting at times. But if that doesn’t sound like a first world problem, I don’t know what does.
I’d like to visit Siena Tavern again. We skipped the charcuterie, cheese, and crudo courses, so I owe it to myself to at return at least once to try something from each of these selections.
Thanks to Fabio and his staff for a memorable, enjoyable evening.