Review: Hota, a restaurant with an identity crisis

Opened in the beginning of January 2012 in the former Jacky’s on Prairie in Evanston (bought by chef Jonadab Silva and his wife, pastry chef Erin Winston Silva last September) as a new concept, it is clear that much work needs to be done.  Moving away from French bistro fare southward to Spain, there are offerings that reflect Latin influence both from the Iberian peninsula to Latin America.  My problems are not the items, but their execution.

The restaurant itself is nicely done with dark wood tables, pleasant art (for sale) on the walls, but the noise level with a full dining room was rather high, and we had to raise our volume to be able to converse in our party of four.  Service is hit and miss, with attempts to be overly solicitous, but screwing up on the main fundamentals, as will be detailed below.

I had a nice Monastrell (a Spanish red wine) with excellent fruit nose and appealing taste. I do think that charging $10.00 a glass for a wine that retails for $10.00 to $12.00 a bottle is a bit much.  Service started with an amuse bouche of a 3/8 inch square of overcooked puff pastry with a piping of a “crab” mousse that had no taste whatsoever.  For appetizers, M*** had the duck flautas, 2 corn tortillas with a not generous portion of duck leg confit rolled inside, served in a soup bowl.  I suppose that makes sense if you are going to eat the flautas in your hand, and dip into the sauce, but I think it much better to cut the flautas with a knife and fork, and control the garnish addition with my utensils.  I had the mussels catalan style, served with a crust of what I assume was panko crumbs and “Butifarra sausage”  Not all the mussels were still attached in their shells, and only a few had the panko crusts, with the mollusks tough and overcooked.  This was served in a bowl, but no spoon was given to me for the eating of the sauce, supposedly a saffron béchamel decidedly lacking in saffron.  Only one minute piece of thin overly toasted bread was served with the mussels, and both the mussels themselves and the sauce were overly salted.  The duck flautas had too much salt as well.  J*** had the corn tortilla soup, which arrived cold.  When the soup was returned to J***, it had clearly been placed in the microwave, with resulting destruction to the crème frâiche and the tortilla strips.  The soup was also overly salted.  My spouse had the roasted beet salad and was thoroughly unimpressed by the beets, the Goat Cheese and the gastrique.  In addition–major service gaff—the server did not know which appetizer went to which diner, and placed them down in front of the wrong persons without asking.

For main course, J*** had a ½ order of Scallops, which she reported were cooked correctly.  However, the issue of price rip off, only 2 scallops for the half order (or 4 scallops for a full order at $26.00) has to be raised.  M*** had a ruby trout, which was not overcooked, and had a decent taste, but with a definite fish smell and overly salted.  My wife had tilapia, with a garlic crust, but again, with too much salt.  I found the tilapia to be very ordinary, with no merit.  I had the “twice cooked leg, crispy breast” of duck, served in a soup style dish.  The leg meat was overcooked and dry, the breast not “crispy” and medium, not medium rare, the preserved figs in the dish non-existent, and with too much salt.  Seems to be a recurring theme with the seasonings.  This is probably an overreaction to a number of reviews that said the food was not seasoned enough.  Suggestion—put salt and pepper on the table (there was none), season to a sufficient but not excessive level, and let the diner add as needed.

The dessert menu was expensive and the offerings did not attract us, especially based on the expertise of the appetizers and entrées that we had been served.

I think there are too many problems to solve, with pricing, design and execution of dishes, and service.  It would take a major revamp to entice me to come back.  Currently, there is no value for the money, and the charges are excessive for the quality and quantity of food provided.


About trustforce

A well trained amateur chef, I have learned by taking some master classes and doing a lot of reading and experimentation. I cook and enjoy many different cuisines. The fun is getting it right, with great taste and presentation. The smells and appearance add to the pleasure of eating well. I can enjoy a great Chicago style hot dog or an Italian beef sandwich, or have equal pleasure from haut cuisine. All my recipe postings are extensively tested by me unless I state otherwise. I will sometimes post a recipe that sounds like it should be good before I actually make it myself, but I will always come back and revise the "untested" recipe after I've made it, with valid comments to keep old posts accurate and current. If I am not the originator of a recipe I will always correctly attribute the source author, even if I have modified the recipe. I will occasionally post reviews of local restaurants on the site. The big problem that I have with eating out is that I know too much about restaurants and I find it hard to ignore or forgive sloppy technique or bad ingredients. I pull no punches in my restaurant reviews!
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