Tucked away among the commotion of the busy streets of Rochester lies Tapas 177 Lounge. Despite searching for the establishment for several minutes, I finally came across the dimly-lit bar and lounge located at 177 St. Paul St.

Upon entering, I was not greeted or directed towards the stairs leading downstairs to the restaurant; instead, I felt as if the staff and those sitting at the bar, drinking one of the 22 “best martinis in town” according to the Tapas 177 website, already knew that the food and drink would speak for itself.

Descending the stairs, I noticed the authenticity of a traditional Spanish “tapas-style” restaurant. Having spent some time in Spain, I felt as if I had been transported to the bustling streets of Barcelona, where local eateries strive to serve delicious fare.

As my family and I were escorted to our table, we were handed menus that brought puzzled looks to our faces. While the front of the menu offered a variety of “tapas,” roughly translated in American cuisine into a small dish, the back side of the menu displayed a list of entrées.

While the entrée-sized options seemed appealing, we settled on sampling tapas to share as a table. As the waitress brought over warm bread and an olive oil and balsamic vinegar dipping sauce, we placed our order.

The bread served at Tapas 177 was rather one-note, offering only a soft texture in both the crust and body of the bread that lacked both salt and a binding spice such as rosemary.

We decided on the Tuna Tartare Napoleon, Steamed Mussels with Fries, Chicken Paillard, and Grilled New Zealand Rack of Lamb.

A unique take on the traditional tuna tartare, Tapas 177’s “Napoleon” proved to be a successful rendition. For many, tartare is a tricky dish to prepare; one must highlight the fish, but at the same time, avoid over-seasoning. I believe tartare is best served in one of two ways: either with a touch of acidity (either via lemon or lime juice), or by taking a route through Asian cuisine. This dish utilized Asian flavors yet incorporated guacamole as well, adding a subtle creaminess to break up the strong flavor of soy.

Both the chicken and lamb were well prepared, and a hit among those at the table. The mixed green salad atop the chicken paillard was quite delicious, combining a variety of mixed greens, vegetables, and gorgonzola cheese in a harmonious balance. The lamb was cooked perfectly with just enough char on the outside of the rack to counterbalance the tangy and cool tzatziki yogurt-based sauce on each chop.

While the first three dishes were enjoyed by all, it was difficult to determine whether or not the mussels were worthwhile. In most cases, preparing mussels is not a difficult feat; either using deep spices and a tomato-based broth, or verging on the lighter side through an infusion of white wine and garlic, it is hard to go wrong. However, the take on mussels at Tapas 177 was quite bizarre and not in the good sense of the word.

Although I did enjoy the use of chorizo sausage in the mussel broth as a way to add much-needed flavor and spice, I was not a fan of the pomme frites — french fries for those unfamiliar with the term — that swam among the mussels in the large serving bowl. The fries quickly became soggy in the broth and, in my opinion did not contribute much to the overall dish.

I would return to Tapas 177, but I would order less “tapas” and more likely an entrée instead. The chefs behind the scenes definitely appear to have a developed understanding of what flavors go well together, but I think that if I could offer any advice, it would be to stick to the simplicity of Spanish cuisine. As a  young Rochesterian, I understand the establishment’s appeal: good food and even better drink options. As a young undergraduate with family visiting from out of town, I would suggest looking into locations that offer a friendlier space with more lighting.

Lerner is a member of the class of 2016.

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