Tapas Assault 

Lolo's Consistency Problem

Our dinner kicked off with potato chips—hot, fancy potato chips. Eyeing the sprinkle of fresh rosemary, sage, and tarragon, we eagerly dove in to the first of several tapas we'd ordered at lolo, NE Alberta's newest—and, with the demise of the Alberta Street Oyster Bar & Grill, arguably most upscale—restaurant.

Half a dozen chips into the sizeable portion, however, and we were forced to back away. Too salty, my dining companion declared after her first bite. I suggested she'd stumbled upon an inadvertently oversalted chip, as the first one I'd tasted was in the running for perfect snack food. With my second bite, however, I discovered I was wrong: The chips practically burned our mouths with excessive salt.

Next up, a saffron onion soup was creamy, rich, and an intensely sunny yellow. A frizzle of crispy onions piled on top, however, were as oversalted as the chips. I pushed the garnish around to get at the interesting, mildly tangy soup, leaving most of the crisps in a soggy heap at the side of my bowl.

Our three generous Cod cakes were perfectly breaded, and the fish inside had the delicate consistency of fluffy mashed potatoes. Things were looking up; I could overlook the chips.

My pork albóndigas—meatballs of ground and cured pork—were a high point, accentuated nicely by oven-dried tomatoes, but the ricotta gnocchi and almond sauce filling out the plate were bland and forgettable. The Draper Farms chicken entrée left a much better impression: The leg was tender, with a well-seasoned crust, and the rich chickpea puree sauce melded nicely with wilted spinach and spears of salsify.

Lolo's culinary unevenness extended to other parts of the restaurant, where several elements were slightly off. A long, narrow window between the dining room and the kitchen is a great idea, except here it's placed two feet too high, so all you can see are the tops of cooks' heads. If the window were a touch lower, you could see the cooks in action, adding a dramatic element to dinner.

From the conversation one table over, at least one tapas dish wavered from the quality a pair of regulars expected: "This was better last time," a woman told her companion as she nibbled on a sardine. And the dining room is nearly all hard surfaces, creating a din of echoed conversation as the room fills.

To be fair, my mixed feelings are based on one visit to the restaurant. Classic review rules dictate multiple, paced out visits before rendering a decisive verdict. After all, it's entirely possible we stumbled into lolo on a night when one cook, carrying a bag of salt, tripped and drenched part of the kitchen in the stuff, leaving none for things like ricotta gnocchi.

But in reality, new customers make a judgment based on a single meal. Had I approached lolo as an average customer, the assault on my tongue would have long overshadowed lolo's brighter points—exceptionally friendly service, a delicious and savory pumpkin bread pudding with pomegranate seeds and caramel sauce, or the beauty of the food's bold colors.

 

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