We often grapple with the question of how many times should we eat at a restaurant before reviewing it, and at times it can be a tough call. Off nights are to be expected, and sometimes it's just out of anyone in particular's control. Our first trip to Salero didn't go so well, but we decided it needed at least another chance. Today we can say with confidence we have eaten at Salero three times, and you'd probably have to twist our arm to go back.
Salero claims to incorporate fresh local ingredients and authentic Spanish traditions, but the only thing they authentically do is miss the mark. The food allegedly focuses on Spain's Basque region, except for it's not tapas, and diners are encouraged to each order their own appetizer and entree. We have no problem with the concept, but the Spanish-influenced food is mediocre at best, and coupled with high prices it makes for a rather annoying meal.
Even forgetting the fact we didn't have great dinner service on our first trip, the bottom line is that the food isn't that good. Take the grilled octopus appetizer, for example, served with a mashed up mix of fried olives, pickled mustard seeds, and puffed quinoa. Sure, it tasted OK, but six tiny pieces of octopus in a scientific-looking preparation made it something we would expect in a ten course tasting meal, not a place like this. Another example is the $33 zarzuela de mariscos, which is a variety of fresh fish "with tomato and fennel in a saffron infused sherry broth." When we hear saffron-infused sherry broth, we expect big flavors. And while the selection of seafood was fine, the listless tomato water it sat in was the only thing we could focus on. Saffron infused sherry sauce it was not, and plain shellfish on its own couldn't make up for the execution that fell flat. We came back to Salero two more times, including for lunch, and ultimately felt similar about everything we've eaten here.
At the end of the day, we can't convince ourselves to consciously drop that kind of money for mediocre food, particularly when there is so much good going on in the West Loop. Especially when you consider that Avec and Blackbird are literally next door, there's no reason to settle for an overpriced and lackluster alternative. What Salero does have going for it is an awesome, modern-industrial feeling space. It's a great design with a solid-sized bar and a few high tops up front. If you really want to check it out, eat enough food somewhere else in the West Loop first. Come here afterwards for cocktails and maybe dabble in a few small late night bites like the jamon, almonds, or pinxtos.
As far as dinner goes, we're glad we game back, because it only further emphasized what we already knew.
Pinxtos are small bites typical of Northern Spain that usually are served on a small piece of bread or on a mini skewer. This version is a tiny white anchovy, caperberry, cornichon, and piquillo pepper skewer. A good bite for $1.50.
A plate of jamon and manchego cheese with pears and marcona almonds. High quality meat and cheese, which should be expected in Spanish cuisine. Definitely order.
As we mentioned, if it were one of twelve courses on a tasting menu we'd be OK with it, but here it's a swing and a miss.
Glazed Pork Belly Sandwich
A decent piece of pork belly with hazelnut romesco, pickles, red onions, aioli, and served with papas bravas. Our biggest problem is both the bravas and the sandwich are soaked in the same hazelnut romesco, which is a bit overkill.
Chorizo Stuffed Quail
A waiter told us this is one of the most popular items, and overall we had a few problems with it. Despite decent flavor, we didn't like the mushiness of the chorizo in the quail.The quail itself was OK, but the wilted spinach it sat over was not.
Zarzuela de Mariscos
A mix of scallops, salt cod, shrimp, and mussels with tomato and fennel in a saffron-infused sherry broth. We can't get over the broth. It's so bland.
Grilled Whole Maine Lobster
If this is a whole Maine lobster then it's the smallest one we've ever seen. The pasta it's served over is as exciting as the zarzuela broth.