In this beloved nook off Forest Park Boulevard in Fort Worth, Sapristi! once reigned supreme for its mussels, killer steak frites and one of the best clubby-but-far-from-pretentious bars in the city.
It’s a relief to say Sera Dining & Wine is not only carrying on the joie de vivre legacy of that restaurant, but also improving upon it night after night — an impressive feat considering Sera (emphasis on the second syllable: seh-RAH, as in Que Sera, Sera) has only been open since the end of September.
Both co-owner John Marsh and chef/partner Brandon Hudson have years of experience accentuating bistro fare. Marsh is the former manager of Sapristi! (and also a Café Modern alum) and Hudson trained in Spain under Michelin-rated chefs. Most recently, he helmed the kitchen at Tim Byres’ Smoke in Dallas, but before that he was at Sapristi!, too. It’s a variation on the old saying — why fix something if it’s not broken?
But make no mistake, Sera is a completely different restaurant, with a menu stressing Spanish tapas, seafood and pork, as well as a growing wine list dedicated to France and Spain’s best vineyards.
Over a lovely complimentary bowl of tiny green olives, we mulled that small list — Sera only recently received its liquor license so it’s still a work in progress — and settled on what proved to be a bold choice for two cabernet/merlot cellar dwellers — a 2007 Torre de Oña temparanillo ($15 for a glass).
Similarly, the nicely edited menu skews provocatively flavorful. The beauty in the diverse tapas (small plates) here is that there’s something for more “daring” diners (crispy pig ear frites, $7, or blood sausage croquettes, $6) but there’s also the more accessible patatas bravas ($6) and Spanish omelet ($6). We were most intrigued by the littleneck clams ($13) as well as the Meyer lemon marmalade ($7).
The clams came nestled in a cider-based broth, mingling with diced pieces of chorizo, a few baby artichoke halves and a smattering of roasted peppers. The briny clams mixed with the spicy chorizo was a good match, for sure, but the slightly acidic broth was downright addictive — after the clams were long gone, I used the spoon and made sure none of it went to waste.
The Meyer lemon jam plate was four pieces of rustic bread, topped with a smear of goat cheese, the tangy jam and a lusciously thin slice of Serrano ham. Salty, tangy and rich, the dish seemed like a really good half-sandwich. I would have liked to see the bread sliced a bit thinner and maybe toasted, only because its doughy-ness kept the dish from achieving total greatness.
A minor blip, because the next two dishes had us swooning. The mixed green salad ($7) was a deceptively simple mash-up of field greens, blue cheese, baby roasted peppers and pine nuts, lightly dressed in a vinaigrette. It was a humble presentation, but its combination of winning flavors superseded all else.
But the squid-ink fideo pasta ($22) was gorgeously wrought: small snippets of black-as-night toasted fideo were offset by a mound of snowy calamari, four beautiful scallops and a side of snap peas and roasted bell peppers. If you can see past the temporary staining of your lips and teeth, this is a dish that you will be dreaming of, days later. The pasta was just a bit salty and buttery, buoyed by the creamy, rich squid ink; the seafood pure perfection and the veggies added surprising crunch and clarity to the entree. Seated by the window, I swear I had to blink to make sure it was Tommy’s Hamburgers across the street and not a Venetian palazzo.
We were also crazed about dessert, a persimmon tart served with whipped goat cheese ($6), which our understated server wisely advised us to order. The savory, nearly melted cheese was an ideal topper to the delicate (and under-appreciated) fruit. French-press coffee, a house specialty, was served tableside in a duly sophisticated manner.
Can you say c’est magnifique about Sera? Because our experience was certainly that. But maybe more appropriately: No matter how many dishes you order or ways you configure your shared plates, whatever will be, will be. You’ll be happy.