Martha+Tom

Help Me Out Here

As I was biking through downtown Minneapolis on my way home from work yesterday, I noticed the new exterior at Solera, a tapas restaurant that I have enjoyed many times. I didn’t enjoy the new look. I find the Spanish flag awnings are a bit garish — not to mention nationalistic — compared with the formerly quiet, Gaudí inspired blue and tile. Far more offensive, however, are the new banners hanging vertically down the side of the building that proudly proclaim Solera to be the “Cucina de España”. If you’re not shaking your head incredulously right now, I should explain that “cucina” is the Italian word for kitchen; the word in Spanish is “cocina”. In addition to “kitchen”, cocina refers to cuisine, home cooking and cookery — all things to which Solera would presumably like to refer.

When I first saw this I was sure it was just a printer error. Maybe nobody at the sign company spoke Spanish and maybe the sign was hung in a hurry without checking with anyone at the restaurant. An expensive error, to be sure, but one that would be corrected quickly. I even pulled off the road to try to take a photo of the banners, so sure was I that they would be taken down and replaced with corrected versions before anyone noticed (my iPhone camera, unfortunately, failed to work — but that’s another post).

But then I checked Solera’s website. Here’ a screenshot from the top of the page:

And the page footer:

Apparently, Solera is embracing the “cucina” thing wholeheartedly.

At this point I started to question my own knowledge of Spanish. Maybe this was just a word I wasn’t familiar with — I checked dictionaries and the incomparable wordreference.com, but I couldn’t find anything. Maybe it was Catalan? No — that would be “cuina”. I even called a Spanish professor, but she just confirmed that cucina was not a Spanish word.

Was Solera going for some kind of Italian-Spanish fusion concept, and expressing this through the fusion of the languages in their tagline? Not according to the first sentence on their homepage:

Featuring an evocative menu, authentically embracing the cuisine of Spain, Solera offers an unparalleled experience for social dining in a vibrant, Spanish-influenced atmosphere.

Embracing the cuisine of Spain, sure, but not the language. The menu is pure Spain.

This is even more confusing since the new chef at Solera, Jorge Guzman, is a native of Mexico City, and I doubt he’s the only member of the kitchen staff who speaks Spanish. If the marketing people had bothered to check with Guzman one would think this error might have been avoided.

The idea of marketing raises the possibility that this is all just a cynical ploy for attention, for nitpicking blog coverage like you’re currently reading. They say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, and seeing these banners certainly made me stop, and here I am writing this post, playing into their manipulative hands. Mission accomplished. But does this lead me to take Solera seriously as a place to celebrate and enjoy the culture of Spain? Pues, no.

I’m not sure why I’ve become so obsessed, but I’ve been thinking about it since last night and I just can’t make sense of it. If it’s an error, it’s a huge and repeated error that speaks badly of the organization, especially after its recent management change. If it’s intentional, I have yet to come up with a plausible theory for what they were going for. Am I just linguistically ignorant? Can you help me out here?

19 comments | , , , , ,

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19 comments on “Help Me Out Here”

  1. Peter 23 March, 2011 at 7:58 am

    I’m interested in what happens here. I think you should call the restaurant and ask for a comment from management.

  2. Kevin 23 March, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    Maybe they are attempting to embrace the multi-national, borderless concept of the E.U.?

  3. Tom 23 March, 2011 at 12:12 pm

    In that case maybe they could’ve thrown another language in there — Cucina des España?

  4. A Ann 23 March, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    I dunno…I was just sent through snail mail an advertisement from a bank encouraging me to “refinance your morgage.” Maybe editors were the first to be let go in this economy.

  5. Crystal 24 March, 2011 at 6:05 am

    Great catch! Now I’m interested in seeing what happens.

  6. Trout Caviar 24 March, 2011 at 7:16 am

    I imagine their thinking went like this: “People are so used to seeing cucina, if we use the correct cocina, they’ll think we made a mistake, and only a few nitpicking multilingual compulsive obsessives like Tom Nehil will mind, and screw ‘im if ‘e can’t take a joke…”!

    It’s bizarre and kind of depressing. Soon all our restaurants will morph into one giant italiano-tapas-bistro-sushi-cucina franchise, with wood-burning pizza ovens. And Tom, when you get this sorted out, will you look into the Szechwan-Szechuan-Sichuan morasse? That drives me nuts.

    Seriously, I imagine this will get around and elicit a response. Curious to see what they say.

    Yr’s~ Brett

  7. Kate 24 March, 2011 at 7:20 am

    Thank you! I just saw it this morning and was so bothered by it I came into work and started Googling. I was already irritated enough by “3 Monkey’s Pub” on Nicollet.

  8. Beth 24 March, 2011 at 9:59 am

    As a lover of both languages AND food, this hurts. Thanks for calling attention to it. It looks like the phrase is on their menu as well, at least based on the PDFs provided on their website. What a costly and easily avoided mistake for them, but I really hope they fix it. It’s a little difficult to take them seriously with the “Cucina de España” branding all over the place.

  9. christine 24 March, 2011 at 12:21 pm

    While I have to say that all this banter was interesting to me, the only question that matters is was the food good (okay and the service too)?
    The answer to this question is- hell yes! I had the pleasure of exepriencing the new menu and it was excellent. They have kept the old favorites (croquetas anyone?) and added new dishes that have become my new favorites(beluga lentils). For anyone who hasn’t been in awhile, I would check it out!! Oh ….and still the BEST sangria in town.

  10. Jane 24 March, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    So annoying. I’m still annoyed by Bar Lurçat’s pronunciation. The little tail on the c ONLY means that the c is therefore pronounced like an s. Yet the place calls itself Lurkat, not Lursat. (Or, if you want to be super fussy, Lursah.)

    (In case it doesn’t show properly, that c in Lurcat has a little tail on it, thanks to alt + 0231.)

    Neither stupid language thing will stop me from eating at either place. :)

  11. Kevin 24 March, 2011 at 2:03 pm

    Anyone bothered with the always incorrect pronunciation of ‘bruschetta’?

  12. NS 24 March, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    It seems to be fixed on their website as of 4:00PM today. Wonder who lost their job over that one.

  13. Tom 24 March, 2011 at 3:18 pm

    That’s a happy ending! I wonder if they’ll have to print new banners and menus as well. And christine, I’m glad to hear the positive report on the food as I was a big fan of the previous incarnation of the restaurant.

  14. Marcela 24 March, 2011 at 4:45 pm

    Tom, thank you for changing the world, one word at a time! Cocina, ¡joder!

  15. JG 25 March, 2011 at 11:32 am

    I hope I am missing some nuance here, that some of this is tongue-in-cheek. To think that heads should roll over this is more than a bad case of self-importance.

    It is a muff on a important attention to detail issue, but the bigger issue is why they serve red-listed seafood, or their lack of transparent tracebility on items that should/could be sourced locally.

  16. Jane 29 March, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    Way to go! I don’t think anyone will lose a job over this, but it was probably very awkward.

    As for bruschetta being pronounced “wrong,” that’s a different story, since they are *saying* it in English. Hazy territory. (I know enough Italian to know the “correct” way, but eh, not a battle I’m interested in.)

  17. homestilo 13 April, 2011 at 7:18 pm

    So…what happened?? The only thing I could think of was that maybe either the Catalan or the Basque use “cucina” instead of cocina (because you know they have their own thing going on as far as language goes). But couldn’t find the answer on Google…

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