Port Clinton tapas bar is a mix of good and bad.
Fiery jerk chicken - grilled jerk chicken/grilled pineapple/roasted red peppers/apricot nectar/hot rice
PORT CLINTON — The owners and managers of Cielo Grande Tapas Bar and Restaurant seem to be confused about what kind of stamp they want to put on their establishment.
The new restaurant brands itself as a Spanish tapas bar, but from the questionable culinary origins of some of the dishes to the befuddling decor of the restaurant, it’s a lot to take in.
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Address: 117 Madison St., Port Clinton
Menu: Spanish-American. Hours: 3 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays; 3 to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
Wheelchair access: Yes.
Average Price: $$
Credit Cards: MC, V.
Web site: cielo-grande.net
Sure, they have small plates, which is what tapas are. And a few of them are quite good. But the menu is a misleading mess of confusion. Fiery jerk chicken ($16), which boasts a roasted red pepper, apricot nectar, grilled pineapple and hot rice had no flavor.
None. My friend, who considers herself a jerk chicken connoisseur, said it had none of the taste qualities jerk chicken is supposed to have. A photo of this new dish on the restaurant’s Facebook page looked quite different than the one served to us.
The empanadas ($8) were horrifying. The dish is described as ground beef turnovers topped with manchego cheese, raisins, chili sauce, and avocado mousse. I love avocados. I will order a dish that contains them only for that reason. There was no evidence of any avocado mousse on the dish. The chile sauce tasted of canned enchilada sauce; the manchego cheese consisted of four or five small pieces of unmelted cheese swimming in the sauce alongside some raisins.
Our first visit was much better than our second. The quality of the dishes might have been dependent on who’s behind the kitchen door (which by the way, actually needs a door so that patrons sitting at the end of the bar aren’t staring straight into the kitchen). On our first visit, we ordered the paella Cielo Grande dish ($21) that contained saffron rice, chorizo, chicken, and shrimp. It was fantastic.
The chicken was tender, the chorizo spicy, and the saffron not overpowering. During a second visit we tried the paella Valencian ($24), which included mussels, clams, shrimp and chorizo. Not as good but was served piping hot and was certainly not the worst thing we ate that night. Here’s what we found to be the catch: While paella is recognizably a Spanish dish, the dishes we enjoyed were closer to a saffron risotto. Missing was the layer of toasted rice in the bottom after cooking it on an open flame in a shallow pan, the part of the dish that is considered a delicacy. One of my dining companions declared it tasty, but more like saffron risotto.
“Change the name, and it’s a success,” she declared. Also confusing is the difference between the menu that was placed before us and the one on the restaurant’s website, which was much more inviting. Many dishes were missing, including Bloody Mary oyster shooters ( $9), several vegetarian tapas including stuffed artichokes, and Chulettillas de Cordero ($11), a medium rare lamb chop plate. Perhaps it’s a seasonal thing, which I can get behind, but only if patrons are informed of such changes.
Had I looked at the online menu first before I went and had my heart set on some lamb chops, I would have been disappointed. The culinary side of things was not a total loss. Four tapas plates (all $10) stood out and are highly recommended:
Paella Cielo Grande - saffron/rice/mushrooms/chicken/chorizo/shrimp/corn/tomatoes/creamy broth
●The angry shrimp features jalapenos, cherry and red peppers and a chipotle aoili. The shrimp were crispy and the dish provided a nice mix of hot and cool.
Mushroom Stuffed - portabella mushroom stuffed with lobster and crabmeat/tomato-dill sauce
● Calamares Fritas are tossed with garlic, tomato and onions. A tasty dish that was served warm.
● Tostada y pollo are corn tortillas topped with tequila lime chicken and fresh shredded cabbage. The dish could have used a little more of the pico de gallo and green chile cream noted in the description, but all in all a nice dish.
● Mushroom stuffed. It wasn’t the prettiest plate set before us, but the flavors were excellent.
I didn’t expect the savory tomato sauce to complement the seafood but I was pleasantly surprised. The bar offers a great mix of drinks, and on both evenings offered 10 different beers from the tap, including a wonderfully aromatic River Town Blueberry Ale from a brewery in Cincinnati. Options also include a tasty beer-marita served with a Corona bottle and lime surfacing from the top of the glass, a long wine list, beer and wine flights, and house made sangria.
I could talk about the crazy decor all day. Formerly Big Sky Saloon (Cielo Grande in English), the building was purchased last winter and opened this spring by city business owner Bill Van Der Giessen, who also owns 1812 Food and Spirits and Rosie’s Bar & Grill housed in the Island House across the street.
It’s got a great feel with its brick walls, warming fireplace, and a rustic appearance. But the decorations are all over the place. Flags of the world meet college sports teams pennants meet paper mache sculptures meet jars of pickled food meet random sports memorabilia, including a signed hockey jersey by New York Rangers player Rich Nash and a collage of photos of Muhammad Ali.
I wasn’t sure if I wanted to watch a ball game or recite the Pledge of Allegiance. The former owners of Big Sky placed taxidermy heads all over the restaurant to go with their theme of a rural, backwoods feel, and it worked then. But the animal heads are still there (I hate dinner under a giant moose head), and I’m not sure why. They don’t go with anything. It was baffling to me.
Having said all that, I’m excited about the future of this restaurant. They have an upstairs venue — The Listening Room at the Loft — that brings in local artists frequently and offers room for big parties. That’s a great addition. The staff was professional, pleasant, and hard-working.
Contact Bill of Fare at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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