Tonight's foray was to a place I often pass by but have never gone to because it looks like one of those restaurants where the food isn't as good as how the restaurant looks. I'm also convinced this is where cool "old money" hangs out. It's a slightly different crowd from what I see on "The Row" (you know, Santana Row). The patrons here seem to be a more serious sort--professional, established, refined, but still current. Which, of course, leaves me a little out of place. But since I'm on an "I'll try anything" stint, a friend and I decided we'd check it out anyway--and I think we can be pretty cool too.
I met my friend at Joya for an early dinner, and already, the outside dining area was filled with patrons, who look like they're genuinely enjoying themselves, having a leisurely dinner. The restaurant is quite large. We were seated in the inner sanctum, where we could neither see passersby nor be seen by them. But that's okay, we were really there for the food anyway. The ambiance is modern and chic, nicely lit (not too dark but not too bright either), and there was no music, just a constant low hum of people's conversations, which made talking to my friend across the table comfortable. The wait staff was also friendly and attentive--less pretentious than I expected.
Tomato salad: hard to go wrong with fresh ingredients for this one; the buratta cheese was a nice complement (and is apparently made in-house).
Crab cakes: they didn't use a lot of filler, and had a nice crispy outside without being too greasy. Very nicely done.
Tuna tartare: also very fresh, and I typically love anything with avocado.
Ceviche: this was our least favorite, I think; the texture of the fish seemed all wrong, didn't seem to taste or look like fish; maybe it was too sour, as well.
Empenadas: just okay to me; the flavor of the crust was overpowering, and the mushroom filling was good but not exceptional.
Seared scallops: the truffle oil definitely made this one special; very nice combination of flavors with the grilled corn.
Total tab on this meal came out to around $50/person (tax and tip included, not including alcohol). Yes, that was not cheap--more than we anticipated. We did, at least, leave there feeling very full, which doesn't always happen to me when I have tapas. It probably was not worth the $50 we each spent on the meal, but I might go there again for a special occasion. While it may not have been truly authentic, I liked that Joya kept things familiar and didn't try to be too fancy. There are far better Spanish or Latin restaurants, but if you like ambiance and are looking for a cool social factor, Joya is a fine choice.
Joya is on University Avenue