"http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Review Rendezvous: Casa Mia

Review Rendezvous

_________________________________________________________ Where the chic come to critique.

24 April 2007

Casa Mia

Nestled in the corner site that formerly housed Mia Madonna and Rouge, Casa Mia attempts to duplicate the rustic romanticism of an outdoor Spanish tapas bar. The exposed brick, wrought iron sconces, and bamboo shoots would create trendy and cozy touches but are unfortunately overpowered by the arresting array of clashing colors. Tangerine, Pepto-Bismol pink, and aquamarine walls combined with apricot tablecloths give an air of eccentricity that fails to carry over to the menu.

Venezuelan native Hector Urriola and Carlos Jimenez, who is from Columbia, combine their restaurant experience with their heritage, and along with pal Mike Conway, have recently brought this dining destination to Athens. Infused with South American flair, Casa Mia is open for lunch, dinner, and even for a bit of midnight munching. The menu focuses mainly on tapas, offering paella, tostones, yucca, and other iconic dishes.

Hoping for some culinary excitement that would reignite the dying flame that is the tapas bar craze, I visited Casa Mia on three different occasions. Each exploration of the menu left me unpleasantly surprised. A gooey sticker from the obviously pre-packaged ingredients is possibly what one may find stuck to a burger at their local fast food joint, but not amidst the mango salsa at a so-called savvy downtown eatery. Beyond the poor preparation, the menu creates a deceiving image of delicious dishes that is quickly destroyed as soon as they arrive at the table. The queso dulce, described as creamy cheese with sweet bell peppers, is extremely disappointing, as it is literally a pinch of diced red pepper strewn across a brick of cream cheese that is better suited on a toasted bagel. The plantanos maduros (fried sweet plantains) come smothered in unexpected and unnecessary ribbons of mozzarella, but they are actually quite delectable once the cheese is unraveled. The “spicy Casa Mia” sauce that accompanies many of the dishes is nothing more than a weak mixture of ketchup, mayonnaise and an almost untraceable dash of paprika. After sampling the entire selection of all 15 tapas and several of the entrees, the chef’s definition of “spicy” is seriously questionable.

The Casa Mia dining experience varies in its level of mediocrity depending upon the time of day you choose to go. The long dining room and tiny bar are crowded and noisy at night, but the window-side tables are the perfect place to people-watch during the day. With the exception of a small selection of salads, the dinner menu is entirely dedicated to tapas, while several entrees are available during the lunch hours. Like most tapas restaurants, the portions are miniature, but Casa Mia’s prices are very reasonable. Seven tapas and a bottle of house wine amounts to just under $50, providing an opportunity to try a variety, but only a select few are worth opening your wallet.

The ceviche is unquestionably the best item on the menu. The lime based marinade coats the fresh fillet of tilapia with red onion and cilantro that come together in a delightful marriage of flavor. Juicy steak skewers served cold and with a side of tangy Argentinean inspired chimichurri sauce stand out from the very limited late night menu. Among the most unpalatable dishes is the rubbery shrimp doused in a watery sea of garlic and parsley that comes with a few meager slivers of bread. Also avoid the salmon, which is overcooked and served on a bed of tasteless mango salsa.

To their credit, the small but eclectic wine list shows an admirable commitment to their South American-infused theme. The Doña Isidora Riesling, cultivated in Chile, tantalizes the taste buds with hints of citrus and evergreen. The Miolo Reserve Merlot is velvety smooth, and the sangria is tart and refreshing. The small bar in the back of the dining room boasts several draft beers as well as a modest liquor supply, and $2.25 PBR cans are available for college patrons on a tight budget. For a non-alcoholic treat, sip on a lulo drink, made from exotic Columbian grown fruit, that can be served chilled or blended with ice to make a daiquiri-like concoction. This rare burst of flavor danced across my taste buds, but also illuminated the blandness of the food.

All in all, Casa Mia is a disappointing addition to the Athens restaurant scene. The service is friendly but the food fails miserably at paying homage to its saucy Latin roots. The entire experience is far less than dazzling and at times even bordered on unbearably bland. If you’re in the mood for tapas, shell out the extra money and head down the street to Speakeasy.

-Jacqueline Lintz


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