This year’s incarnation -- a Southern France–inspired rooftop bar -- really doesn’t go beyond the namesake. But the generic feeling may be intentional -- when one sense is dulled, the others become more pronounced.
For décor, the "taco shack" hasn’t changed much, aside from shelves holding lit candles as flourishes. The space seats about 35, with three sections of lounge couches that hold about eight each, and a smattering of tall tables. They can accommodate private parties, too. Music is chilled urban lounge at a decibel level low enough to hardly notice, but present enough to prevent people’s conversations from drowning in silence. The feel in general smacks of Kartel but on a much smaller scale. So why would you go here? I can think of two specific occasions.
The first case is when you’ve met someone intensely interesting and want absolutely nothing to distract you from keeping laser-focused attention on them, and you’d like the same attention back. We shared a "couch enclave" with some classy French gals, but somehow they disappeared in the moment despite being less than a few meters away. The other reason one might go here is if they just wanted a simple, unpretentious evening on a quiet, loungey terrace. This very much describes the food as well.
Olives came out saturated in a garlic-rosemary brine and served warm, and their saltiness and warm temperature served as a nice offset to the chilled/sweet sangria.
Next, a traditional anchoyade. Similar in texture to Mr & Mrs. Bund’s tuna mousse amuse bouche, but with more a robust and distinctly anchovy flavor. Spread thinly on the grainy house baked bread and vegetables, this goes a long way. My anti-fish counterpart actually liked this dish the most so this gets the nomination for the highlight.
Then came the panisses, a kind of fried dough, crispy on the outside with an almost creamy-polenta like center, served with a tomato pistou sauce (flavor profile of olive oil, garlic, basil, tomato). These are probably done better elsewhere. The panisses had a “flour” taste while the pistou just didn’t do much. But the rosemary chicken breasts were moist, lightly seasoned, and with the herb distinct on the palette -- simple, well cooked, and nice to snack on.
As for drinks (the place bills itself as "a bar before being a restaurant"), the sangria had a good balance between the wine and juice, but the homemade basil soda needed a citrus element to prevent the odd perception that a piece of pizza or pasta had fallen into a glass of club soda. And the homemade peach tea could have come from the fridge at some American gas station. Too sweet.
Damage was hardly noticeable. Two people, four dishes, three drinks each, and you’re looking at about 150-200rmb per person. Not bad at all.
Overall, the food and drinks lacked a wow factor. And that might be the point. This is a place to go steel away with someone special, where a drink in your hand and a snack on the table is a necessity, but the real goal is spending time together while everything else is invisible.