Tuesday, November 12, 2013

This Sangria Needs Seasoning

With a restaurant bearing the name of Sangria’s, one would expect a little spice to be infused into the otherwise ho-hum dining scene in downtown Attleboro. The timing is certainly right for this Spanish and Portuguese tapas-themed eatery to succeed, particularly given that its main competition only minutes north in Easton, Loco, has recently closed and will be re-opening early next year under new ownership and with uncertain expectations. It’s that spice, however, that Sangria’s shockingly lacks, both in terms of its cuisine and service, which could use lots of seasoning.

The restaurant’s interior aims for contemporary and intimate, yet strangely feels cold and unromantic for such a promising, open space. There are only a handful of actual tables, a few of which are situated by a large window overlooking Attleboro Center, another few tucked away in the rear, surrounding a more vibrant, illuminated bar wedged in between. High ceilings make for awful acoustics, leaving diners resorting to near-shouting, which quickly transforms into the full-fledged variety once a guitar-playing musician begins his ear-piercingly loud set right behind us.

Sangria’s menu looks appealing enough, with several tapas broken out by starch, cheese, vegetable, seafood and meat. Batatas Doce Fritta ($5) provide a promising start to the evening, a generous portion of hand-cut sweet potatoes fried with brown sugar and cinnamon. The spuds possess a crispy exterior and a piping hot interior. They are the Spanish take on addictive fried dough poppers that could easily pass for dessert.

But that is where the superlatives end. Sometimes a little more salt, pepper, or spices would transform a merely good dish into an exceptional one. Take, for instance, empanadas de atum ($7), pastries with a buttery, flakey exterior but filled with tuna that’s not quite as spicy as the menu suggests. Camarao Alhinho ($11) offer four plump, nicely pan-seared shrimp braised in white wine butter sauce, but the roasted garlic component of the sauce is barely discernible. Three mini flame-grilled chourico sliders ($8) are well cooked and have a nice char to the meat, but the accompanying caramelized onions and horseradish mayonnaise barely registered on the palate, while the Portuguese sausage lacked seasoning and heat. Polvo A Feira ($12) was the evening’s biggest disappointment. What sounded so intriguing – braised octopus, finished with cold-pressed olive oil and smoked paprika – was entirely bland, rendering the fish as mere pieces of rubber to be consumed. A delicious, gooey, custardy coconut flan drowning in caramel sauce demonstrated a flicker of the culinary heights Sangria’s aspires to ascend yet rarely manages to reach.

Fortunately, Sangria’s boasts an inventive cocktail menu highlighted by several house-made sangria selections. The house red and white varieties are available for either $7/glass or $21/bottle. I’d recommend splurging for a couple of dollars more to sample a pitcher of Cinco Frutas ($24), consisting of a sweet, potent, yet refreshing blend of red wine, Ruby Porto, Chambord liquer, orange and cranberry juices, blueberries, blackberries, and topped with champagne and Sprite.

Service borders on laughably bad for a restaurant promoting itself as a fine dining establishment. When our server asked if she could remove our dish, she prematurely removed a two-thirds finished pitcher of sangria. At the conclusion of our meal, while ordering dessert, she remarked that Jamaican coffee was available. How astonished I was, then, to discover a mug filled with tea and alcohol (our server seemed surprised at my astonishment, and when asked what it was, she didn’t quite know herself). Nor was the Jamaican concoction, whatever it was, properly removed from our final tab. Perhaps our server was on Jamaican time herself that evening. A complimentary shooter of white Port wasn’t enough to offset the scattershot service.

If you’re looking for tasty cocktails, Sangria’s is a serviceable destination. For an actual dining experience, however, I’d recommend either heading south to Providence’s Bacaro or north to Ken Orringer’s beloved Toro in Boston’s South End. Both restaurants’ cuisine and service as finely seasoned. Sangria’s could use some sprucing up.