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Isabella's Taverna and Tapas Bar, Chef Mario Sanchez on N. Market Street in Downtown Frederick


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Isabella's is fine. 

Isabella's in another perrencial favorite. I just wish they'd stop discontinuing all my favorite tapas...

Mrs JPW, Peanut, and I stopped by Isabella's for lunch on Saturday. The best I can say is that the service was good. Shrimp on black rice was overcooked add oddly flavorless. Duck sausage on relish was OK, but a tad too gamy. Goat cheese empanadilla had no distinct goat cheese taste, but the crust was light and flaky. I'd go back, but only because tapas is a good way to eat with Peanut. What really shocked me was the prices. Granted that it's been a while since I've been to Zaytinya or Jaleo so my ability to make direct price comparisons is limited, but Isabella's prices seemed to be about $1 higher for every plate than they should be.

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I wish I'd checked backed in here before I took my kids to lunch at Isabella's today, y'all are right on about that goat cheese fritter, it was terrible. The grilled calamari was chewy. The asparagus fries were great, salmon with spicy cider sauce an jamon was a hit as was the pork loin and the stuffed dates wrapped in bacon. The albondigas were ho hum. There were 8 of us and we all ordered at least two tapas and a few people ordered mains. I wanted to try a bit of everything but that's a lot of "just one bites". ;)

The desserts..the brownie with hazlenut ice cream was a dissapointment. The brownie was hard as a rock and dry. The ice cream was nice. It was chocolate, so my kids plowed through it. I loved the bread pudding. I've made better flan. I wanted to try the sangria cheesecake but no one else was interested so I left it for another time.

The service was terrible. The guy spent a lot of time stalking back and forth but I never actually saw him DO anything but stand behind the bar making himself a very long and complicated drink. We had to wait for everything, and even though I went in there hoping for a long leisurely sangri-sprinkled tasting session, the waiter still needs to show up periodically, which he did not. Several of our tapas plates didn't come out at all, and since we were pretty full, I was just going to ask them to take them off the bill. We sat for a LONG time waiting for the guy to check on us, (like, ask us if we wanted dessert or the check, or whatever) and it took me finally shooting a pointed look at the bartender, who snagged the waiter and sent him over. We explained that two of our tapas hadn't come, and could we just remove them from the bill, and could we get some dessert menus? The waiter got all snippy about it and said they were already made, and I said, we were really ready to order dessert, and he said, "No, it's already made" and stomped off. So we ate the damned things and THEN ordered dessert, but the waiter love magic was all gone. Not a huge deal, but please, grumpy ass waiter dude, be grumpy on your own time, okay? I am an ex-wait person and let me tell you, I tip out the ass. But not to you, my friend. I actually tipped the food runner seperately so *he* wouldn't suffer for your bullshit.

So there you go. My not ready for prime time review of Isabella's. Cute spot, hit or miss on the food, grumpy ass waiter.

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Of all places and all things to witness in Frederick on New Year's Eve, I never expected the best hostess experience of my life.

Following the enthusiastic recommendation of a local resident escorting an irresistibly horse-sized Newfoundland, we strolled into Isabella's for tapas and wine. Our group of five arrived well before the dinner rush. But the place was hopping from tables of of jovial diners, bar seat sangria sippers, and other makers of merry. I checked into the host stand, somewhat dreading what I assumed would be a frenzied and hurried transaction. At first misheard she me, thinking I was calling out a reservation name rather than a number. But then her expression turned to joy when she exclaimed with sincere delight, "oh, you are a walk in, so glad you are here!" This response floored me. In the already-buzzing atmosphere, with the droves of customers I saw pour into the restaurant later on, greeting us like the first customers of the day was an instant mood booster. Her graciousness continued as we strolled to our table. She thanked us for choosing this restaurant, and expressed how excited she was for us to try the food.

Isabella's has a gem in that front door presence.

Like so many tapas venues, Isabella's menu is extensive. Too extensive. Figure-out-what-you-want-and-then-get-lost-trying-to-remember-it-extensive. I await the illuminating day when the Jaleos, La Tascas, and Las Tapas of the world will provide pen and paper, or reusable sticky flags, so famished diners like me can possibly hope to recall our ordering intentions.

Beverage options also provide diversity. Spanish wines by the glass pervade the menu with food-friendly, accessible selections. Beer choices from partner restaurant Brewer's Alley include locally brewed pilsners, lagers, ales, along with national favorites on tap and bottle.

It may have been luck of the service draw, but our server brimmed with knowledge, enthusiasm, and efficiency. Her recommendations for dishes and wines were spot on for our varied group, everyone immensely pleased with their guided selections. Bus boys and food runners demonstrated the same friendly excellence, a surprisingly symphonic interplay. Previous reviews here have noted significant service slips, perhaps a recent turnaround or different management approach is at work?

Our tapas-portioned paellas hit the saffron spot, not exceptional, but satisfying. Other table favorites included artichoke bottoms stuffed with crabmeat in saffron butter, the signature house dish of panko-crusted asparagus served with pimentí³n-rich Aioli, brie with honey and almonds, and clams with chorizo. Less successful were the zucchini and feta fritters, served just a touch too cold for enjoyment, salted just below favorable.

The real success here seemed to be blending different flavors between the plates. A touch of smoky aioli brightened the paella. Pork loin with melted Manchego on grilled bread dipped into the clam sauce created an addictive flavor boost.

With crowd-pleasing favorites and diverse beverage options, Isabella's offers a festive choice in downtown Frederick.

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With crowd-pleasing favorites and diverse beverage options, Isabella's offers a festive choice in downtown Frederick.

 
I'd hoped this would remain my secret smile.gif

I've only ever disliked the spiced nut dish - I've really enjoyed everything else. My wife and kids and I have been maybe 10 times over the last 5 years or so and have thus tried just about every menu item.

Isabella's was my first Tapas experience years ago and since it doesn't get much press in the "high class" restaurant reviews, I just figured it was a matter of time before I'd stumble upon a better tapas place. So we'd try places in Virginia, Baltimore, around DC - and I haven't yet beat Isabella's for the overall experience - food + service + atmosphere + whatever else makes you leave feeling like you want to return soon.

Thanks for the reminder that it has been too long.

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'm hardly an expert in paella (though the paella at Isabella's is okay).

Speaking of Isabella's, how has it been lately?  I haven't been there (for a full meal) in years after I got fed up with the decline in quality.  Stopped there for an appetizer with drinks a year or two ago and it was actually quite good, but it still fails to make my mental short-list when considering places to have a meal.

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Speaking of Isabella's, how has it been lately?  I haven't been there (for a full meal) in years after I got fed up with the decline in quality.  Stopped there for an appetizer with drinks a year or two ago and it was actually quite good, but it still fails to make my mental short-list when considering places to have a meal.

I've not been in a long time, sorry.

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