Review: Seny

I was going to come up with some ridiculous pun on Seny’s name (pronounced “sehn”) but at 4 PM on a Tuesday, it’s pretty lost on me. I’ll let my readers (or The Boyfriend) fill in on that one. It would be a “Seny” to skip this restaurant? That might work.

For some reason, Terry and I wanted tapas on Saturday night. I wanted something that could potentially be light, and we definitely wanted to try something new. We looked at Relish in Mason, but their menu looked less like tapas and more like entrees, so we decided on Seny.

Seny, in case you didn’t know, is owned by the Maier family of Frisch’s Big Boy fame. Don’t worry– no tartar sauce and fish sandwiches here. Their son, Travis, went to culinary school and apprenticed in Spain, then came back here and opened a restaurant. There has been a bit of controversy, mostly because Travis Maier isn’t as experienced on paper as some of his chef-owner counterparts in the city, and I had heard some mixed reviews. Instead of heeding the gossip, we decided to dive in.

We were pleasantly surprised.

First, the service: it was laid back and knowledgable. The waiter was incredibly well-versed and enthusiastic– and became moreso as I demonstrated that I was excited about the food as well. He explained that the dishes didn’t come out in any particular order, so we ordered what we liked and noshed until we were full. He understood the nuances of the food. For example, the kitchen had forgotten rosemary oil for one of the dishes, he noticed, and brought some out so we’d have the full experience of the dish. The meal itself was a great deal– five generous dishes, two drinks apiece, $65 + tip. One of Terry’s beers, however, was taken off the tab– it was half foam, being from a newly tapped keg. We were never rushed– a good thing because it was far too fun to linger, people-watch, take in the scenery, and listen to the live Spanish guitar.

There were two menus: tapas modernas and tapas tradicionales, as well as a daily special list. We ordered mainly from the tapas tradicionales list, as well as the scallops from the tapas modernas.

Patatas bravas: smoldering hot potatoes, fried and covered with mayonnaise. What’s not to like? The mayonnaise is heavy on the paprika, which made it smoky and lovely, and the potatoes were crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. Very filling.

White gazpacho: this was the most surprising yet delightful dish of the evening. A soup, made traditionally– almonds, garlic, breadcrumbs, olive oil and grape puree. At the bottom? Sliced grapes. This was sweet, cool. refreshing, garlicky– all at the same time. I’ve found a recipe for it and I’m going to have to make it this summer. I think I prefer it to the more well known tomato based gazpacho.

Charcuterie: Chorizo, Serrano ham, house-cured pork loin and salami with a couple of gherkins and two caper fruits. My favorite was the house-cured pork loin, which was salty and a little less rich than the chorizo and salami. Of course, if rich is what you’re after, the salami is a great bet– well marbled and certainly not the stuff of salami sandwiches in your Cincinnati childhood (maybe if you were a child in Europe!).

Scallops: This is about the time the lights went down, thus the change in photo quality. Boo! Perfectly cooked, paired with bacon, crimini mushrooms and watercress in a light saffron cream. The waiter came by to put on the rosemary oil, which complimented it nicely– I love the combination of woody, smoky and sweet– and encouraged us to soak up the cream with the bread on the table. Yum, yum, yum.

Una copade vino rojo: A deconstructed glass of Priorat’s Miserere 1999. That’s all it said on the menu. When the waiter came by, I asked, “Is that what I think it is?” and he explained that the flavors of the wine were deconstructed onto a plate into individual components. I was right: molecular gastronomy in Cincinnati, here we come! I was so, so excited about this, and the waiter was excited that I was excited. Terry was excited that I was excited. It was a table of excitement, let me tell you. It did not disappoint, and I managed to actually write down the individual components:

Concord grape gelee– not your mama’s grape jelly, this was slightly sweet and a little richer than the Welch’s variety you’re used to. You got a bite of it in just about every bite of the rest of the dish.

Blackberry spheres– not heavy on the blackberry, indeed, a bit lighter and less jammy than I was expecting.

Grape caviar– green grapes processed into a caviar-like “puree”.

Vanilla pearls– tiny beads of vanilla flavor

Vanilla char– the dish was brought out with a bit of still-smoking vanilla bean, which is an amazing scent.

Chanterelle mushrooms– for the woodsy quality in the wine. Very different.

paprika– for a touch of spice

a tiny bit of edible rose

The entire plate was surrounded by a bit of rosewater foam and watercress. The entire dish was an experience, and after taking a bite, then taking a sip of the wine, each element the chef was highlighting was apparent. It was beautifully done, and one of the more impressive dishes I’ve seen in Cincinnati. Price? $11. Not bad, really.

In all? I am so impressed and excited by this place– it’s just what Cincinnati needs. A bit of comfortable food, a bit of cutting edge stuff, a lot of attitude, a lot of ego, but some family roots. I will definitely go back again– and I look forward to doing so.Seny on Urbanspoon

  • Anonymous

    The deconstructed glass of wine alone would have brought me in. How fun!

    -Peter

  • Cin Twin1

    I am thinking this place would be perfect for the next date night. I like places where you aren’t rushed and can enjoy the experience. How about CinTwin goes to Seny? :)

  • k

    i’m glad to hear that seny is worthwhile. i was disappointed when…now i forget the name of it…the gourmet soul food place with jazz…anyway, when it closed. then i was suspicious because of all the gossip surrounding seny. but i will definitely have to check it out. thanks for the review!

  • vudutu

    Great review, my SO has been and loved it, I think this goes on the short list. K it was Simones.

  • Julie

    I think the gossip was what kept me away.

    CinTwin– were you at Lavo last night? I didn’t see you!

    K– We need more gourmet soul food. But I just like soul food, so I’m biased.

    Vudutu– good seeing you last night, along with your lovely SO. Glad she liked Seny, too!

  • Kelly

    Wow, the deconstructed wine sounds pretty amazing. I might have to try this place out for my next “special occasion” dinner.

    P.S. I went to Relish a couple weeks ago – the dishes that sound like entrees are actually served tapas-style. My boyfriend got the “salmon stuffed with crab,” and it turned out to be bite-size portions of crab wrapped in salmon.

  • Cin Twin1

    Julie,

    I am in India this week, and believe me I have had enough of this food! I will definitely be at the next E.A.T.S event. Was it fun?

  • Cin Twin1

    Julie,

    I am in India this week, and believe me I have had enough of this food! I will definitely be at the next E.A.T.S event. Was it fun?

  • Chris S

    My only real complaint about seny is the service. Compared to a truly great tapas place (say Tapeo in Boston, or the great tapas places I’ve visited in Atlanta), the service is… to say the least sllllloooooowwww. Tapas should be fast moving, dish after dish, and one is done, the server should BE THERE waiting to take the next order. I’ve had to wait as long as 20 minutes between dishes there… This is mostly a process thing that they have yet to “get down” but I think that their layout kind of hampers this type of service. (With that narrow back half of the restaurant and a poor use space in the rest) Part of the fun of tapas is that you can eat slow and savor various dishes (you shouldn’t have to say I want these 5 things and the start of the meal, but order as you go). With Seny I find myself ordering like “I want this, and then this, and then this” etc. It should be “I want this” and when “this” is done, they are right there to take the order for the next.

    I’ve been there 5 or 6 times now, and the food quality keeps me coming back, but the service has yet to improve to how I expect a tapas restaurant to operate…

  • Chris S

    Oh, and the “deconstructed wine” thing is certainly not “new.” We did a similar dish at a restaurant I worked at in 1996. The information found here is similar to what we used to do, a deconcstructed white.

    Its fun to play with deconstruction as a technique, but it really takes a refined palate to do it well :) (seny does it moderately well, but there are flavor notes I would add to theirs)

  • Dan

    I really enjoyed Seny. The food was very good and the style lent itself to a fun evening of sharing food and conversation. It was better than I expected as opposed to Lavomatic which did not live up to my expectations.

  • Julie

    Chris– Our server actually discouraged us from doing what you do– ordering X, then Y, then Z, saying that everything comes out as it’s ready. I guess I had a particularly good waiter, as he was always there to take our next order when we were finished. The space IS poorly laid out, I agree. Also, w/r/t the deconstructed glass of wine, how telling is it that we’re just seeing this in Cincinnati almost 12 years after its conception? Sadly, food trends don’t always go over well here or they just don’t quite make it here as readily as they do on the coasts. I think that’s changing, thank goodness.

  • Chris S

    I actually prefer not to order everything up front, but alas, at seny, in my experience, it was either that way or seriously extended waits between dishes.

    It may have something to do with where we have had tables (hard to reach, hard to see). I’ll be going back without a doubt, and perhaps if I get a table in a good location I’ll try to order as it should be done…

    It is more than telling that it took so long for something like deconstructed wine to hit a table in Cincinnati, but, as you say, hopefully it is portends good food happenings in the future ;)

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  • M.R.

    I loved Seny. How sad that they closed.