3/16/2012

Zarza Eclectic Cuisine: Spartanburg, SC


A 120-seat Latin and American fusion eatery, with dishes that blend regional favorites from across the world with local flavors. Jose and Jackie Landa are committed to giving people a true dining experience. … Something that can't be found anywhere else in Spartanburg. The dining room is decorated in a bright color scheme that includes pastels, light woods and elegant textiles — elements that tap into the building's historic qualities and its location in the Grain District. The name of the restaurant speaks to Jose Landa's side profession. “Zarza,” literally translated from Spanish, means “the vine of a blackberry plant.” One of the eatery's house wines will be a blackberry vintage made by Landa.

Zarzas just opened the doors on Black Friday and in a short 3 months have a very loyal following. Up until today, I didn't even know that they excised (they really need to work on this). Just two days prior to my visit they introduced a new lunch menu to try to keep-up with the ever changing times and to keep the doors open for the lunch traffic. The restaurant opens at 11:30 for lunch service and when I walked in at 11:45, I was the only person in sight. By the time I had left around 12:30, only three other tables had come through the door. So why the loyal following with such a small crowd you ask? All three tables knew everyone by name and the staff dropped everything to greet these loyalists and one lady had the privilege to dine here for her third straight day in-a-row. With that said, Soup or salad is no longer included in the menu prices and can be added to any menu item for an additional $1.95. I must say that I was a bit disappointed when I discovered this as my heart was already set on a bowl of soup with my meal. Along with having to fork over a few bucks for soup, the menu prices of a few of the popular dishes have also increased by a buck. Although disappointed at first, I quickly got over it as my food was brought out. Along with some minor price changes, they have also added a full line of sandwich options along with a bunch of burger choices to try to appeal more to a variety of diners.

First off, the soup du jour. Today's feature was lentil and beef soup. As soon as I heard "Joe" say Lentil, I was all ears. Good lentil soup is hard to come by and I have a weakness for perfectly cooked lentils. This is one particular item that I find very difficult to make myself. Unfortunately the soup was just OK. It had a lot of slow cooked beef and some nice spices and flavors going on. The biggest complaint about this dish was its lack of intense flavors. I was waiting for the extra kick of flavor, but it never showed up within the soup. The lentils had turned into the next day soup mush and everything was blended together. Please don't get the wrong impression though or take the above comments as negative, it was just average at best. Not the worst letil soup ever, but definitely not the best I have had or the best that Zarza could put out of that kitchen.

For the main course on this visit I went with the Pabellon, A very traditional Venezuelan dish is composed of shredded shank steak slowly cooked with sautéed onions, red and green peppers, and basil leaves in red wine. Served with white rice, stewed black beans, and sweet fried plantains. Online price: $8.95 Restaurant price: $9.95. How could I go wrong with what many would consider to be the Venezuelan national dish.

The fried plantains were about fried as perfectly as they could have been. They had a very thick "candy coating" and paired very well with the Pabellon and rice. The black beans were decent at best, very bland in comparison to the rest of the dish and the rice was just rice. The slow cooked steak with sautéed onions and peppers was amazing and well worth the extra buck I had to fork over due to the change in menu. The beef and wine sauce had this taste that makes all of your senses go crazy. I was disappointed at first with the lack of fresh basil as described on the menu, but in the end I was glad that the basil wasn't present as the dish was perfect the way it was. The only thing negative I would say about this dish is that I would have preferred it to be served with a fried egg rather than the sweet plantains, but that is just a personal preference and how I am used to this dish being prepared.

In addition to some amazing Pabellon, they also feature many other very traditional and tasty Southern/Latin American dishes including Pasticcio, Picanha, Paella Valenciana (a portion for two) and a very extensive small plate menu featuring some truly amazing Crepes (just to name a few).

Bottom line, Zarza Eclectic Cuisine in Spartanburg is in a terrible location and one that you are not sure if you should leave your car alone while you run inside. About 2 blocks off the main strip and in a very run down part of town. Besides Zarza's website, they have absolutely zero interweb hype about them at all. I'm afraid that this restaurant has gone unnoticed for way too long due to the location and lack of advertising/social media. However, what they have done with the space on the inside is simply amazing. The restaurant is gorgeous and you truly feel invited and welcome by the vast open spaces that surround you along with the huge windows on the main road. Please help get the word out on this truly great Latin American restaurant in the Burg. Their food is too amazing to go unnoticed. Located just a short block or two down from RJ Rockers and Cribbs Kitchen.

Zarza Eclectic Cuisine on Urbanspoon

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