We decided to go around 7, knowing we were likely to be joining crowds, and sure enough, the entry was jammed with people waiting for tables.
It turns out, this was the busiest night yet at Finca, Scott Evans' much-anticipated Spanish restaurant. As soon as one party was seated, another group showed up at the door.
In other words, a nightmare scenario for a new restaurant.
Sometimes, in the restaurant business, nothing kills like success. Word spreads about a great little place, everyone shows up at once, the kitchen is in the weeds, rushes the cooking, runs out of food, service is overwhelmed, slow to deliver anything, in a rush to get to the next table, customers get frustrated and turn rude, and the eager crowd leaves disillusioned and determined never to return.
Restaurateurs keep their fingers half-crossed for a slow opening.
But at Finca on Saturday night, it was full speed ahead.
Strangely, and slightly wonderfully, everyone seemed to be taking the chaos in stride with a smile on their faces. Bar manager Scott Gardner was taking drink orders for the people waiting, and took time to explain the construction of each drink with its delivery–the Reformer, his own invention, featured a lemon-rimmed glass with amontillado as the base flavor. I had cold cava from the exclusively Spanish wine list.
Executive chef Phelix Gardner was expediting with a smile on his face, as his cooks labored over the 700-degree plancha, and he kept the order slips straight as smoothly as a Vegas dealer. Our server Sam could have been a contender on Dancing with the Stars, his footwork was that fast and precise as he managed his full tables, explained Spanish food and made suggestions about the all-Spanish wine list.
Everyone in the place was just happy to be there.
I credit the grace under pressure to owner Scott Evans' front-of-the-house experience. Like Pago, Finca is not a chef-run restaurant, it is a restaurateur-run restaurant. Evans has a vision, and knows how to make it real, keeping his eyes not only on the plate but on the whole experience.
Wisely, he concentrated on making every customer happy, instead of worrying about tying up loose ends.
Because Finca, sister restaurant's to Evans' Pago down the street, isn't really quite finished yet. There's still construction going on at the entrances, the dining room demands the acoustic adjustments coming soon, and one seating area isn't finished.
Even the menu is still truncated–right now, it's just hot and cold tapas and a brief list of raciones. More complex dishes–house-cured meats, paella, baby pig–are still to come. Lunch service starts this week; that, added to Finca's unusually late evening hours (open until midnight on Friday and Saturday) will keep the staff's plates filled, so to speak, while they get the service rhythm down.
But the menu fits a fast-paced restaurant and the food has an authentic Spanish flair and flavor, even if every dish wasn't pure perfection. The tortilla, one of Spain's most famous tapas, was one of the best I've had–the potatoes are poached in olive oil for more than an hour, then layered with Clifford Farms eggs. The result is a melded wedge of mouth-filling Day-Glo sensation, startlingly different from the pallid slabs so often served. Albondigas, lamb meatballs with a spicy tomato sauce, were just as good, the sweetness of the lamb balancing the tart tomato so much better than beef.
Mussels came in a chorizo broth with bits of ham and lemon–great flavor but I wished it had been a little more concentrated, maybe reduced a little? Vegetables on the plancha were a revelation–the fast flash and shimmer of caramelization seemed to boost the umami in cauliflower and brussels sprouts.
Octopus, not so much. One piece was beautiful tender, the other tough as vinyl. Shrimp, with preserved lemon, presented with a dramatic flash of preserved lemon and char, but finished with too much salt. Sturdy halibut cheeks and the rare steak suffered slightly from toughness (the fish from over cooking, the meat from overly thick slicing?) but the flavor was undeniable and the caramelized carrots with one and fried potatoes with the other made these plates more than protein stars.
Our unflappable server Sam recommended two wines, made by brothers, and beautiful in comparison as well as alone: Camins del Priorat from famed winemaker Alvaro Palacios was silkier, softer, more floral, plummy on the palate; his brother's wine spicier, more zin-like.
Spanish sipping wines, for before dinner, after dinner, midday and midnight, are famous, and Scott brought over a bottle of his exclusive Aleta Alella Dolc matara, a sweet mourvedre for us to enjoy with our avocado panna cotta and beet chocolate torte. Yes, that's what I said.
So––first crop at Finca, our Utah Spanish-style manor farm–like Pago, I expect this restaurant to grow into itself and from a good beginning to become far more complex and delicious than it is now in its infancy.