Tapas Valencia is the sister restaurant of Naperville’s Mesón Sabika, and yet, despite the relatively modest scale of the business, the restaurant clearly aspires to be a chain. Service has that familiar sheen of practiced perkiness, and the food has all the character of something off a conveyor belt. And true to most chains (and most tapas restaurants, come to think of it), the up-sell is only barely veiled: My party was hardly seated before it was recommended that we order four tapas per person.
That amount of food (it would have meant 12 dishes for my table that night) may be right if there’s a chance it will be fought over. But for most of the tapas, one bite will suffice: Tenderloin medallions with blue cheese sauce arrived tender but with no blue cheese sauce—and, worse, no salt. The imperial paella—an $8 upgrade, thanks to the addition of lobster—boasted the tinny flavor of bad canned tomatoes. Crisp crabmeat fritters had an off-putting, vegetal taste that killed any pleasurable aspects of the dish. And patatas bravas—the calling card of any tapas place—had some nice smokiness but were not crispy, were not spicy and so, in short, were not a good omen.
You could make an argument that tortilla Española is as good a calling card for a tapas joint as patatas bravas. That’s where things get a little tricky here: Valencia’s thick slice of egg-and-potato pie is pretty good. The tender grilled scallops aren’t bad, either—they arrived with a pleasant Israeli couscous—and the pimiento con pollo, sweet peppers stuffed with chicken, had a rich, savory edge thanks to its hazelnut vinaigrette. But even here there’s a lingering mediocrity, a sense that you could re-create the dishes with a few boxed mixes and a can opener.
Or a chocolate bar. Because that’s essentially all the delicia de chocolate is—a rectangle of mushy, lukewarm chocolate garnished with raspberry sauce. A good dessert can be made from ingredients as simple as chocolate and raspberries, but this wasn’t simple food—it was easy. So what Valencia has ahead of it is a lot of hard work.