No passport required: Sera brings Spanish flavor to Fort Worth

Tamarind Phinisee

Patrons looking for traditional Spanish food with a modern flair may not have to look further than their own back yard to a relatively new restaurant called Sera Dining & Wine. Not to be confused with the Mexican or Tex-Mex food style, Sera (pronounced se-rah) features traditional foods from Spain and wine from Coastal France, Spain and Portugal. The restaurant, owned by Fort Worth native John Marsh, offers a casual, wine-friendly dining experience. It is located at 2418 Forest Park Blvd, near the Park Hill, Berkeley Place and Mistletoe Heights neighborhoods and about a half mile from Texas Christian University (TCU). The restaurant’s concept mimics that of American chef Rick Bayless, who specializes in traditional Mexican food with a modern twist. And that’s exactly the style Marsh says he was going for: updated classic Spanish dishes. “What we’re trying to do is elevate the street or peasant food. It’s more homey, but elevated contemporary Spanish food,” Marsh says. “I want Fort Worth to be able to offer a more unique experience to patrons and I want to have a big part of that.” Of course, what may also drive patrons to the restaurant’s door is the fact that they can bring their own wine – an especially attractive pull for those with their own wine cellars or private wine collection. There is a fee of $20 to ‘bring-your-own-wine,’ which Marsh says is waived if patrons also buy a bottle of wine at Sera. The menu offers a variety of foods, including omelets, rice dishes, lamb and steak. Some of Sera’s popular dishes include the Meyer Lemon Marmalade plate, the Ajo Blanco soup and a shrimp, scallop and pasta dish called Fideua Negra. Prices range from $6 to $26.

Rave reviews This concept seems to be a big hit among locals, who say they sometimes come to the restaurant several times a week. Mick Perrotti, a local salon owner and resident who’s known Marsh for about 15 years, says he’s a frequent visitor and finds the atmosphere inviting. An added bonus, he says, is that he is able to bring wine from his own cellar to enjoy at the restaurant. “It’s almost like Spanish food, passport not required. I’ve been going there almost a year now and the menu has yet to bore me,” Perrotti says. “And John’s pairing of food and wine is second to none. The dining experience is just always amazing.” Dennis Bubert, local resident and bass trombone player for the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, says Marsh has successfully created a new and unique dining experience that’s not currently mainstream in Fort Worth. “I think it’s something that’s needed in Fort Worth,” says Bubert who has known both Marsh and Hudson for years. Bubert says he and some of his colleagues frequent the restaurant and enjoy the comfortable and welcoming atmosphere. He adds, “There’s a real sense of community here, not only among the staff but also among a lot of the regulars. … People do not need to approach the restaurant with any degree of anxiety about food or wine.”

Culinary Palate Of course, behind any good restaurant is a good chef. And the man behind the food at Sera is executive chef and partner, Brandon Hudson. Hudson, also a Fort Worth native, has trained and worked at some of the finest schools and restaurants in the world. This includes the International Culinary Center (formerly known as the French Culinary Institute) and Spain’s three-Michelin-starred restaurant – El Celler de Can Roca – in Girona, Catalonia. The food Hudson creates is based upon his training and experiences in Spain. Although what he learned and did was at the forefront of modern cuisines – complete with lasers and liquid nitrogen – Hudson says he wanted to make authentic Spanish comfort/peasant food with a modern twist. Some of the food he uses – like chicken and lamb – comes from local farmers/growers. Eventually, he says, he’d like most, if not all, of his food to be locally grown. He also plans to incorporate more vegetable dishes to cater to vegetarians or those who want to eat healthier. “I’d like to start bringing in more local ingredients and a mix of what’s local and native to the area so that I can utilize them with these classic dishes and and continue to introduce people to Spanish cuisine,” says Hudson, who is also a TCU grad.

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Growing Pains The restaurant opened at the end of last September in the space that was formerly occupied by long-time and well-known restaurant, Sapristi! Bistro and Wine Bar. As a result, Marsh says, people often show up thinking they’re at the old restaurant. While this has been a good thing because he’s been able to convert some of the former Sapristi! customers, Marsh says he really wants strong brand recognition for Sera Dining & Wine. Therefore, he says, he’s working hard to market the restaurant through various platforms, including hiring a new public relations person. “I’ve done a lot of Facebook marketing. I have an email list and I started out with a PR firm that was able to be us some mentions in Dallas and Fort Worth publications,” he says. “And I have direct mailers going out to the surrounding neighborhoods.” Of course, getting the business to this point hasn’t been easy. Although Marsh has worked in the restaurant industry for some 30 years, this is the first restaurant that he’s owned. Preparations for launching the business took at least two years, as Marsh sought funding from friends and family. Finding capital to fund a restaurant from the banks was not easy, he says, given the volatility of the industry. But he managed to get the ball rolling with $150,000 – $25,000 of which came out of his own pocket. The rest of the money came from friends and family. He was also able to secure a $15,000 personal loan from the bank. The 3,456-square-foot restaurant has a seating capacity of 110, with room for a maximum of 130 customers. Reservations are not needed, but are welcome. The Tuesday special is paella; and on Wednesdays Sera’s has a special price on a carafe of homemade Sangria. Hours for Sera are Tuesday through Saturday from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.