Restaurant Reviews

Spanish inquisition

Honchos at the Stoneleigh Hotel, onetime home of the classic continental room Ewald's and purveyor of some of the best sushi in Dallas, have decided to sharpen the culinary edges in this circa-1923 hotel. So they shuttered Ewald's, the dining room launched by longtime Dallas chef Ewald Scholz, hung a few quaint plates on the walls, tossed new tablecloths over the tables, and reopened the space as Seville. "[The] Seville concept is another step in this tradition of introducing cutting-edge dining to the metroplex market," says Stoneleigh General Manager Fred Sandoval in a press release. "As the first major hotel property to use the full variety of traditional Spanish cuisine, we hope to fulfill a demand for this important culinary tradition."

Not if people actually eat there they won't. Instead of another big step, Seville underscores how tattered the culinary fabric at the Stoneleigh has become. Even Sushi at the Stoneleigh, with the indifferent hacks behind the bar tossing scraps of warm, dead fish on rice pillows, has become a parody of its once grand former self.

It didn't have to be that way. After retiring Ewald's when Scholz decided to do the same, the hotel could have created a stellar restaurant that goes beyond the little crop of tapas bars that have slowly popped up here and there, one plying Spanish cuisine in a setting tastefully trimmed with Spanish art and furnishings. Seville plays culinary air guitar with its attempt at creating a Spanish menu with genuine breadth. There's a tapas menu with 25 selections. There's a generous selection of seafood and meat entrées and paella--plenty of opportunity here to explore the range of Spanish cuisine. If your tongue can withstand the torture imposed by this Spanish inquisition, that is.

And it starts out with so much hope. The menu looks nice. The selection of Spanish wines is reasonably broad. Spanish chorizo with marinated olive kabobs ($5.25) arrived warm in a crock. Tight little pouches of Spanish chorizo, polished and firm, impersonating the olives with which they huddled in the dish, were warm, chewy, moist, and pumped with flavor. The casings snapped a little when bitten. Clusters of Spanish green and smaller Spanish black olives hit you with an aroma-therapeutic gust of brine fume. A tight little crock of yum this was. Sautéed spinach with garlic and almonds ($4.25), lubricated with Spanish olive oil, was about the best batch of Popeye weed I've tasted in quite a while. Deliciously tender leaves strewn with garlic fragments and thin oval shavings of almond were crisp, tasty, and fluffy.

But that was where the joy ended. Served in a tart puddle of lemon juice and olive oil, the seafood and shellfish cocktail ($7.75) more resembled the stuff you'd pierce with the barb of a hook than the tine of a fork. This distressingly thoughtless toss of hard, fibrous shrimp, bits of calamari, scraps of mushy scallop, and soft monkfish came off like discards.

Meatballs ($5.25) did little more than insult the almond and saffron sauce in which they were bathed. These beef balls were bland, and it seems a little odd to pair a posh herb such as saffron with ground beef that tastes like it was rolled and run through a dishwasher.

Seville's fare is insufferably tiring, and the paella Valenciana ($16.95) is a dish one could easily sleep through--if your fork didn't keep slipping on the greasy chicken limbs parked in patches of clumped rice. Also in the heap were slices of chorizo, monkfish, and mushy clams and mussels--a couple of which were suffused with that taste that leaves you in mortal fear your entrails will revolt before the check arrives.

Lobster cooked with white beans ($21.95) fared worse, which made its price that much more difficult to swallow. A large tail was centered in a milky puddle pocked with navy beans, like a giant bifurcated crawdad surrounded by Sugar Pops floated in 2 percent milk. The tail was dry, tough, fibrous, and riddled with pockets of mushiness. This lobster was either overcooked, freezer-burned, or tortured for being a culinary heretic before it was served.

But what really put Seville at the top of Dallas' most forgettable dining spots was the service. Not that it was rude, unfriendly, or ungracious. It was just frustratingly inept. Servers knew virtually nothing about the menu and couldn't answer even the simplest questions about the food--a critical flaw in a dining room posing as a cutting-edge destination.

Our order of roasted beef loin with wine and bay leaf ($17.95) arrived at our table disguised as the marinated and grilled skirt steak ($15.95). When we pointed out the error, our server insisted it was the beef loin. We shrugged and tasted it anyway, fearing the loin would have the same character of the lobster tail. The skirt steak was dismal--an overcooked rag of tough (even for a skirt steak) beef that tasted almost exclusively of the seasonings; there was virtually no meat flavor. It's quite a feat to cook the taste out of a skirt steak.

Several minutes later, our server returned apologetically to inform us that yes, in fact, the kitchen had swapped our loin for a skirt, a muff that happened in a kitchen servicing no other dining room guests save ourselves.

But we were served a delicious complimentary orange flan ($4.25)--with a brisk citrus burst and a firm yet delicately luxurious texture--to amend for the error. Did I say complimentary? A subsequent examination of the check (one conducted after leaving the restaurant) revealed that not only were we charged for the allegedly complimentary flan, we were hit for the beef loin instead of the skirt steak we actually tried to eat--a $2 premium for the trouble.

Say what you will about Seville the city. Seville the restaurant is more like the Cadillac Seville--the original model with the derrière that looked like a duckbill after a botched nose job. Festooned with lemons.