Tapas Out in The Woodlands

On Friday night, I found myself alone in The Woodlands for dinner. The last few times I'd been up that way, I'd eaten at Jasper's, Cru and The Goose's Acre, and I was in the mood for something different. To hit up Hubbell & Hudson, or one of the places on Market Square?

From across the neatly manicured lawn at Market Square, I saw the dramatic patio of 1252 Tapas and decided to head over. I'd heard some good things about it, and the sleek, shaded interior was filled with seemingly happy patrons drinking pitchers of sangria and glasses of red wine.

The patio looked comfortable, filled with the kind of simply elegant furniture you'd see in an Architectual Digest magazine, and particularly hospitable to a lone diner. The appeal of dining al fresco on that nice evening with a glass of sangria was irresistible.

I should have resisted.

Last week at the Queen Vic, I noted that the restaurant had taken certain Indian or British dishes and given them a clean, modern update. It was refreshing and different; more importantly, it was done well.

I get the sense that the kitchen at 1252 Tapas has similarly attempted a twist on some standard tapas items. Patatas bravas can be prepared in a multitude of ways back in Spain, but I've never seen them quite like this. At 1252, boiled fingerling potatoes are drenched in a slightly spicy aioli that tasted less like aioli and more like a poorly prepared version of the Japanese mayo found on volcano rolls in Americanized sushi joints. "Boiled and coated with aioli" is certainly one way to do this dish, although I prefer mine fried and topped with a spicy, garlicky tomato sauce, as I ate them many times in Alicante.

The slight twist here would be fine if it actually tasted good; unfortunately, it simply didn't. The boiled potatoes were bland, and the aioli seemed to just sit on top in a greasy, unappealing layer. The dish simply didn't come together.

From there, it went downhill. A bowl of gazpacho was basically the equivalent of a cup of the chunky, incredibly garlicky salsa that's served at Spanish Flowers. I would be hard-pressed to tell the difference between the two, if not for the drizzle of olive oil that topped the soup at 1252. To eat it with a spoon verged on disgusting; I dipped my bread in it to make it more palatable, but still could only eat a few bites.

Octopus cooked in its own ink was the nadir of the meal. The octopus seemed to have been charred very thoroughly and then cooked it its ink, giving the sauce both an unappetizing grit and a deep black color. It's not the inky tone that bothered me, obviously, but the charcoal taste and texture present in the ink. Mixed with olive oil, the octopus was simultaneously slippery and gritty, tasting more of grill resin than anything else.

A childhood filled with mother-induced guilt at not finishing everything on my plate led me to eat as much as I could stomach of each dish. This was Spanish food created by someone who seemingly has never tasted Spanish food, and likely someone lacking basic sensory receptors on their tongue. It was -- almost without exception -- appallingly bad.

That exception? The sangria, which I did enjoy on a lovely patio with an equally beguiling view onto Market Square...once they took the food away.

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