Review: Overpriced Midtown tapas restaurant Sebastian underwhelms

These are some of the tapas selections available at Sebastian in Midtown Atlanta. Henri Hollis/

Credit: Henri Hollis

Credit: Henri Hollis

These are some of the tapas selections available at Sebastian in Midtown Atlanta. Henri Hollis/

Sebastian Pintxos Bar, a new Basque and Spanish restaurant in Midtown Atlanta, has a lot going on — and not exactly in a good way.

Failures in important areas of execution keep the restaurant from living up to the grand vision of what it could be. An attractive, exciting first impression is muddled by inconsistent food and service, and the experience is torpedoed completely when the bill hits your table.

The design and decor of Sebastian show off good ideas. A bejeweled, sculptural bull’s head smiles from above a romantic bar, while the pergola over the patio is hung with brightly colored umbrellas. On the weekends, entertainment options, such as DJs and flamenco dancers, keep the energy high later in the evening.

Underripe fruit marred the mango salad at Sebastian in Midtown. Henri Hollis/

Credit: Henri Hollis

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Credit: Henri Hollis

However, the energy was markedly lower when we visited one Tuesday night. We were early for our reservation and the restaurant was not busy, yet the hostess seated our party at a small table next to the restroom.

Each service at Sebastian has a gimmick, and that night’s was $10 gin and tonics made tableside. The deal allowed diners to pair one of four gins from Sebastian’s extensive list with a flavored tonic. We asked our server if she could give us an overview of the flavors of the four gins, and she said she would ask the bartender. When she returned, we were told that the Junipero gin had flavors of juniper and the Watershed Bourbon Barrel Four Peel gin had flavors of barrel-aging.

Although she clearly was underprepared by the restaurant, she did a fine job of waiting our table, despite having almost no knowledge of Sebastian’s menu, which is not particularly easy to navigate.

Sebastian's $36 shrimp cocktail was underseasoned and forgettable. Henri Hollis/

Credit: Henri Hollis

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Credit: Henri Hollis

Things did not improve when we were served our food. The shrimp cocktail, which cost $36, consisted of a dozen unremarkable, underseasoned shrimp and a forgettable cocktail sauce. The mango salad was made mostly from very underripe fruit, with a few cherry tomatoes and barely any avocado. The tuna in our tuna tartare was diced so finely that it disappeared amid the avocado and aioli.

The ham and potato croquettes, usually a foolproof standby at Spanish restaurants, were disappointingly gluey. Grilled artichokes, which appeared to have come out of a jar or can, yielded a first bite that was so salty that it was nearly unpalatable.

During another visit, which included a much more self-assured server, we opted for the $55 charcuterie tower, in lieu of a large selection of tapas. That strategy gave us a glimpse of what Sebastian could be, as we enjoyed drinks and conversation while dining on the restaurant’s porch, overlooking Juniper Street. The charcuterie, though, did not seem much different than what you might find at the grocery store, and our server did not give us any clues about the provenance of the meats and cheeses selected for us.

We fared better with the few tapas that we ordered on another visit. The papas bravas — cubes of fried, multilayered potato pave that were crispy on the outside and creamy in the middle — were excellent. The salad of shaved Brussels sprouts, one of the few enjoyable dishes from our first visit, remained consistent, and the sesame-crusted chicken bites were predictably solid. However, a whitefish ceviche that tasted unpleasantly fishy was a reminder of the kitchen’s quality-control issues.

The entrees proved to be just as hit-or-miss as the tapas. On our first visit, we tried the seafood paella, a $38 dish that came in a hilariously small pan. The next time, our party of four ordered two entrees, the seared salmon and braised beef cheeks, which cost $45 and $48, respectively. Both dishes were good, but they weren’t as creative as you would expect at that price.

Ultimately, the prices are what make Sebastian impossible to recommend. It could be a fun place for drinks and a few carefully selected appetizers. However, for a restaurant where the per-person cost easily can creep past $100 for dinner, there are far too many flaws. At those prices, the food should be special, and the service should sparkle.

Instead, Sebastian hands you a bill that will make your stomach turn, with an 18% gratuity automatically added.

Seared salmon at Sebastian was well-executed, but not worth the $45 cost. Henri Hollis/

Credit: Henri Hollis

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Credit: Henri Hollis


0 out of 4 stars (fair)

Food: Basque pintxos and Spanish tapas

Service: untrained and inconsistent

Recommended dishes: shaved Brussels sprouts salad, sesame de pollo, papas bravas, championes la parilla (grilled hen of the woods mushrooms), salmon al horno, cachetes de res (Madeira-braised beef cheeks)

Vegetarian dishes: Brussels sprouts salad, mango salad, whipped ricotta, charred artichoke hearts, shishito peppers, papas bravas, championes la parilla

Alcohol: full bar

Price range: $$-$$$$

Hours: 4-11 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 4-11 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays

Parking: paid lot on weekdays, valet on weekends

MARTA: a half-mile from Midtown station and North Avenue station

Reservations: recommended on weekends

Outdoor dining: covered porch and patio

Takeout: not recommended

Address, phone: 818 Juniper St. NE, Atlanta. 678-515-0545


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