Then the food got better: An interesting salad contrasted compressed watermelon chunks with arugula and whipped goat cheese. An entree of sea-bass-like corvina was crispy-brown on the outside and complemented by matchstick plantains, peanut sauce, and salsa. Another dish of squashes and bite-size sweet potato gnocchi arrived smothered in a rich brown butter sauce that seemed a bit odd in a dessert-custard way. After a few bites, I checked my handy web printout of the menu for something that might explain the heavy taste of the sauce. Sure enough, as was quickly confirmed by a manager, the olives ("castle ventrano," the menu boasted) had been left out. "Line cook problem," she stated glumly. Her added "I will be sure to tell Chef Gabriel ..." trailed off as she lickety-splitted to the glowing kitchen in back. She returned quickly with a little dish of chopped bright green olives. Mixing them in made all the difference--the salty little devils inspired the sauce to savory complexity.
This experience, and the assertion by our opinionated server that the chef considered the menu a work in progress, made me feel a little guilty about visiting in judgment so soon. Clearly, Chef Gabriel and his crew at Lena needed more time. I vowed to push my deadline to the limit before my final visit.
Nearly two weeks later, I nervously returned. It was a crowded weekend night this time, with twice the number of servers circling the noisy room, now vaquero-costumed in jeans, ties tucked into bright checkered shirts.