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Review: Relish Modern Tapas

Every once in a while, a few of us at work get a wild hair to go someplace that isn’t “cheap chinese” (AKA Chan’s Asian Wok, which is both cheap AND good, a rarity in Mason). Someone suggested Relish (I think it was Susannah) and I jumped on the chance. We piled into my car and headed over.

Relish’s surroundings are interesting– very modern, with high ceilings, lots of light, and lots of sharp angles. It’s very different than the usual decor of the chains in Mason– a nice change.

The one thing that I noticed about the menu is that there isn’t a whole lot of continuity. Unlike menus that have a theme (and this one is supposedly tapas), this seemed more like small portions of a whole lot of different dishes. To test this theory, the five of us tried a pretty wide variety of dishes, off of both the lunch and regular menu.

My coworkers are such good sports.

Steve and I both ordered grilled cheese and soup. The soup choices were shrimp drop and French onion. I got the shrimp, he got the onion.
Relish, French onion soup
The onion soup, according to Steve, was pretty authentic-tasting, and didn’t taste prepackaged. There was enough cheese on top– but not too much– and a generously sized crouton.

The garnish for both soups were strips of tortilla (either the natural yellow corn color, or colored bright blue or bright red, how…patriotic?) and a lot of balsamic reduction.

The shrimp drop soup was excellent– well seasoned, a lot of shrimp, strands of eggs, and vegetables. I think it was probably my favorite dish of anything I tried, and soup is rarely a “winner” in most meals.
Relish, shrimp drop soup
There was balsamic reduction on everything, we’d soon discover. It covered every flat surface. It garnished everything. It was so overdone that at least one of us got some on a sleeve.
Relish, grilled cheese
The grilled cheese sandwich, unfortunately, wasn’t great. At a restaurant such as Relish, I expect a grilled cheese sandwich to be somewhat inventive– good quality bread, cheese– something. It was thick-cut white bread, american cheese, applewood bacon (which was not as crisp as it could have been) and a slice of tomato. I could have made it at home, and probably better. The potatoes served with the dish were good, crunch on the outside and soft on the inside, but the combination was not worth $7.75, even with the soup.
Relish, Chorizo, Date and Bacon balls
I also ordered some tapas for the table. The menu needs to be clarified a bit. The servings are of similar size, but the “large” plates are what they consider “entrees”, the “small plates” could be appetizers and the “petite plates” are more like sides. The lunch menu are for people who dont’ want to share at lunchtime (thus completely negating the appeal of tapas). It’s very confusing. I ordered the Signature Relish Chorizo and medjool dates wrapped in smoked bacon. I had the idea in my head that it was dates stuffed with chorizo and wrapped in bacon, but instead these were chorizo meatballs wrapped in bacon, with little to no hint of date. They were good, but a lot heavier and richer than I expected, and I really wanted to taste the dates, which I didn’t. It was also swimming in the grease from the chorizo. I wouldn’t order it again.
Relish, Tuna Tartare
Relish, Reuben sandwich
My coworker John ordered the tuna tartare for the table, as well as a Reuben. The tuna tartare was excellent– very fresh, simple but great flavors, and a good portion size. The soy and lime made it very bright and fresh, while the capers added an edge of salt. I’d definitely order this again. I didn’t try his Reuben, but he said it was a traditional Reuben and a lot of food– a good value for lunch.

Susannah, the vegetarian, ordered the potato spheres and some grilled asparagus. She said the asparagus was perfectly grilled (always good!) and the goat cheese was a nice complement. I tried a potato sphere– it’s basically deep fried potato balls. Perhaps I’m used to potato spheres being the molecular gastronomy sort; a suspension of potato puree encased in a sphere, but I thought these would be different. They weren’t bad (deep fried potato anything can’t be bad) but the name was misleading. The wasabi cream tasted more like tzatziki, but worked well with the dish, even though there was a drop of balsamic reduction on it, too.
Relish, potato spheres
Relish, tzatziki-style sauce
Relish, grilled asparagus with goat cheese

Nick got the mini cheeseburgers and some zucchini. I tried the zucchini– well-flavored, not overdone, a really good choice (and I’m a big fan of zucchini). Nick liked the cheeseburgers– said they were a good value (he’s a value minded kinda guy) and tasty, on good bread with fresh toppings. Say no more.
Relish, mini-cheeseburgers
Last but not least, dessert. Every meal comes with some complimentary almond and sesame lace cookies. I need the recipe, they were great. We fought over the last one. There was no balsamic reduction on that plate. I was shocked.

Relish, Almond and Sesame cookies

I’d go back, but I would have a few bits of advice: garnish is lovely, but garnishing every dish with balsamic reduction is overdoing it. Get some continuity to your menu– it seems a little random. The tapas don’t seem modern, but instead, scattered. Get a writer in who can redo things unambiguously (I’m for hire..) because several parts of it are confusing and some of the descriptions are downright misleading. If you’re going to do a lunch menu, do it tapas-style. The average customer you will get, even at lunchtime, is not going to want an American cheese sandwich. Even just a change of ingredients– crusty bread, smoked gouda, whatever– would really make a huge difference in that lunch menu.

And two cookies per person, please. Darn, those were good.
Relish Modern Tapas on Urbanspoon

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