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Posts from the ‘spanish/tapas’ Category

Salinas: Great Tapas, Just The Right Amount of Euro

Although Chelsea isn’t necessarily my ‘new’ neighborhood anymore (hard to imagine it’s been 6 months!), I still thoroughly enjoy exploring all the surprisingly good dining options in the area. Since its opening this summer, neighborhood newbie Salinas has peaked my interest, mostly because of its gorgeous-looking back garden. As it turns out, this back garden is indeed lovely and Salinas as a whole is a quite pleasant restaurant.

The sleek space on 9th Avenue has a sheen to it – everything seems shiny and new, crisp and clean. Both the dining room and the back garden are dominated by soothing sultry shades of deep blue; luxe fabrics and Brazilian woods abound; mirrors glint on the rough limestone walls; exotic lanterns shed soft light over the remarkably attractive international crowd. The main dining room opens seamlessly to the enchanting garden patio where the inky velvet chairs mirror the inky night sky and the glint of flame from a stone fireplace reflects the white lights of satellites, airplanes and perhaps even stars passing overhead; lush potted plants are crowded into corners, sit prettily on the fireplace’s mantle, and curl around the tops of lanterns. Salinas is warm, in a sultry sort of way. If you let the lilting cacophony of Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese waft over you and picture that the grimy New York apartment building peeking through the retractable roof is actually a palm grove, you could just imagine that you’re no longer in Manhattan, but instead on the Mediterranean coast, in Monaco or Juan les Pins.

The kitchen prepares Spanish tapas inspired by the boisterous communities lining the Mediterranean coast from Spain to Italy. Unlike what is typically offered at trendy “Euro” eateries from the Upper East Side to Tribeca, the food at Salinas is mostly marvelous. Like tapas should be, the dishes are bold and flavorful bites – assertively salty and savory, sweet at times, bitter when advertised. Culled from a long menu of delicious-sounding plates, my favorites include the simply prepared shishito peppers, lightly fried and dusted with crystalline grains of sea salt; the crispy quails, delicate yet pink and meaty, wrapped in high-quality bacon; the ‘crujiente mahones,’ an airy and crispy flatbread rubbed with honey, thyme and sea salt and topped with perfect nubs of salty dry aged Mahon cheese; the sinful bite-size veal cheek croquetas paired with sweet roasted apples. The food comes out quick and adds up quicker; sometimes, the food is so tasty that it’s hard to stop ordering more plates for the table – I found myself asking for just one more order of the croquetas, for the road …

Salinas is lovely addition to a stretch of Ninth Avenue on a restaurant and nightlife hot streak. Nearby are the new Tippler, Top Chef alum Hung’s new restaurant Catch, speakeasy wannabe Bathtub Gin, and Southern favorite Tipsy Parson. The setting is hard not to like, especially if you’re lucky enough to sit in the garden; it’s luxurious in a quiet way and always buzzing, even when it’s half-full. The noise can get overwhelming if you’re with a larger group or near one, but a glass of sangria quickly sets the nerves at ease. If the setting isn’t your cup of tea, the food most likely will be – the flavors and ingredients are familiar, approachable, and expertly manipulated into traditional Spanish tapas.

Perfect For: first dates, a cheaper trip to the Mediterranean, your “Euro” buddies, a glass of wine and light bites, al fresco dining, Chelsea natives

Salinas on Urbanspoon


Txikito: Basque-ing in Goodness

With Tia Pol, Salinas, El Quinto Pino and Txikito all within a 10 block radius of each other, it seems as though the western reaches of Chelsea are turning into a verifiable Spanish Tapas home-base. A self-described “love letter” to the simple and “unencumbered” cuisine of the Basque region in Spain, Txikito prides itself in its simplicity. And simple it is, a simply wonderful ode to the salty, savory and generally excellent traditional Basque fare.

The restaurant is easily missed, located in a low-rise and nondescript strip mall (also housing Co and the soon to arrive Chelsea outpost of the Sullivan Street Bakery) and totally devoid of any identifying signage. I first noticed it in the summer, when the floor-to-ceiling glass windows were pulled up, exposing the scarlet-topped metal bar stools stored under the white tile and slate-grey marble bar. A hip and young crowd chatted excitedly in the window, spilling out onto the street. Inside, the long and narrow main dining room is covered in faded clapboard, from floor to ceiling, wall to wall. The furniture is sparse and minimalist, consisting entirely of recycled plastic chairs and chintzy metal tables. Only simple lights adorn the rough walls, shedding a soft simple light over the generally disheveled and youthful crowd. The vibe is relaxed, with waiters sauntering around in hipster plaid, and nonchalant – there is no rush here, no stress.

The food is, as touted, classic Basque. The style, tapas. For two people, the recommendation is 4-6 dishes, and with five, my friend Sarah and I felt happily satiated. The cuisine proffered by the kitchen is uniformly delicious and craveable. The kroketas are a wonderful way to start – the size of golf balls, these creamy pork filled croquettes are gooey on the inside, crispy on the outside, and completely addictive. I could go through a basket of these daily if given the opportunity and promised no possibility of egregious weight gain. Also addictive are the salty, oily but not too oily, and spicy blistered peppers – served in a little dish, I think I went through my half of them (and more) a bit more rapidly than I care to admit. On the heartier side are the lamb meatballs, small, savory and served in a wonderful slightly minty broth – as someone with an English passport, the nostalgic reference to lamb and mint was appreciated. For those who love grilled cheese (how can you not, really?), the bocata sandwich is a great option. It’s on the larger side for tapas and undeniably well-made. Thick slices of uncured bacon, a cross between pork belly and Canadian bacon, and Spanish cheese are layered between two slices of grilled sandwich bread – the result? An oozing, meaty and satisfying Spanish twist on an American favorite.

Lastly, even though the standard menu offered is jam-packed with scrumptious options, in the words of our sage waiter, “the specials are where it’s at,” and on any given night, the kitchen at Txikito presents a vast array of specials. The real winner when I visited was a cross between an enchilada and cannelloni – tender pasta sheets were wrapped around a filling of ground pork, beef and veal and the entire package was topped with melted cheese and a Bechamel sauce. It was decadent and soul-satisfying, the type of hot meaty food filled with flavor that you want on cold rainy nights.

Txikito seems content to fly under the radar, attracting passers-by, neighborhood locals, or those actively seeking out tapas/Basque cuisine. And that’s A-OK with me also because it makes Txikito the ideal neighborhood spot – a place you can pretty much always walk into, a place not packed with those who don’t know the difference between Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen, a place not crowded with travelers from the surprisingly nearby Penn Station, a place not impacted by trends and thus not interested in catering to trend-setters and trend-followers. In short, it’s a wonderful place where you can settle in with a friend, a bottle of Spanish wine, and some delicious, unusual, and elegant tapas.

Perfect For: after-work bites and wine, Spanish food lovers, girls night out, hipsters on dates, Chelsea locals, quick bites before hitting the town

Txikito on Urbanspoon

Tia Pol: Being Neighbors with New York’s ‘Best Tapas’

For a restaurant the size of my living room, Tia Pol has a whole lotta hype to live up to. Recommended by pretty much every food-loving person I know in Manhattan, Tia Pol has been touted as New York’s Best Tapas (nymag), as offering a cerebral meal (nytimes), and as one of Zagat’s favorite Spanish spots in New York. Luckily for me, it’s next door to my new digs.

In what I like to call a hot up-and-coming neighborhood, near the high line, most art galleries worth visiting, and a slew of tasty eateries, Tia Pol is barely a sliver of a space. Long and narrow, it seats just 34 customers, and 9 of those seats are at the itsy-bitsy and bustling bar upfront. What little decor there is consists of weathered exposed brick, dotted with small lanterns glowing dimly, bottles of Spanish wine tucked into nooks and crannies, and a cramped open kitchen offering a peek into the magical world of authentic Basque tapas. The seating is a little torturous (consider it a right of passage before the scrumptious food to come), with high bar-height tables, stools with no backs, and little-to-no room to spread out; however, if you’re willing to put up with mild discomfort, it is 100% worth it once you start eating.

The menu is authentic Spanish tapas, offering traditional dishes from the Basque, Cataluna, Andalucia, and Galicia regions of Spain. There are a myriad of tasty treats to choose from, with a core menu offered all the time and varying options at brunch and lunch. Each dish is moderately priced, depending on size, and big enough for two people to have a few bites. With so many tantalizing plates to choose from, it’s difficult to know where to start, and where to end for that matter. For first-time Tia Pol patrons, don’t skip the txipirones en su tinta, a generous bowl filled with succulent rounds of squid, soaked in a savory ink sauce, and a small tower of aromatic saffron rice; it is well-seasoned, fresh without reeking too much of salty seafood, and remarkably complex. Another favorite is the gambas al ajillo, shrimp in olive oil with chili and garlic. The mini-shrimps are perfectly cooked, served piping hot in a bubbling bath of luscious chili oil, red-hot, spicy, and marvelously garlicky – a guilty pleasure for anyone who loves a lotta bit of heat. The chorizo al jerez is a treat for meat-eaters; obviously of the highest quality, this chorizo is fatty (in the best of ways), steeped in thick smoky flavor, and doused with a hint of slightly sweet sherry sauce. The result? A seemingly simple dish of diced meat turned thrilling.

Tia Pol’s kitchen can even turn something so ordinary as a lamb skewer into pinchos morunos, two tiny bites of perfectly-cooked lamb marinated in moorish spices that pack in all sorts of salty, bitter and funky flavors – talk about efficient eating. Other hits are the crema de higado de pollo, two pieces of flaky and chewy baguette topped with generous dollops of creamy chicken liver mousse and a drizzle of the honey-sweet dessert wine Pedro Ximenez, and the extraordinary bocata de lomo adobado, a warm not-your-average sandwich of thinly-sliced pork loin, roasted piquillo peppers, and gooey melted tetilla cheese between two slices of the perfect crusty baguette.

Tia Pol is a place for people with a passion for food. It is simple spot, devoid of atmospheric distractions, with a marvelous menu of classic Spanish dishes. The kitchen must be populated by magical elves in order to churn out such remarkably flavorful and well-executed plates not only with so little space but also in so little time! Unfortunately, one of the down side’s of such an intimate and popular spot is the impossibility of nabbing a table during peak times without a significant wait. The way around it? Stopping by for lunch or brunch, calling ahead to see if they’ll take a reservation that night, or sacrificing your normal mealtime for something very early or very late! Regardless of how you strategize your visit to Tia Pol, just make sure it happens because it’s worth every minute you wait and every penny you pay.

Perfect For: post-gallery hopping wining and dining, first dates, lunch on your lonesome, Spanish wine aficienados, West Chelsea residents, an intimate and quirky brunch

Tia Pol on Urbanspoon

Boqueria: Treat Yourself to Tapas

Boqueria is another jewel in the crown of the Spanish/Tapas culinary revolution happening in New York. Tapas joints boasting authentic Spanish flavors with innovative twists have proliferated in all corners of the city: Flor de Sol in Tribeca, Tia Pol in Chelsea, Alta in the West Village, Agozar! in the East, Beast in Prospect Heights, Calle Ocho on the Upper West, and Pipa in Flatiron. Boqueria, on 19th st and 6th ave and with a new location in Soho, has seized the spirit of this haute Spanish resurrection with pep.

Jostling, bustling, crowded, and loud, Boqueria is hectic and vibrant. Don’t expect a relaxing place for an intimate conversation. People come here for the energy (and the people-watching.) The space is long and narrow with a bar at the front and the dining room at the back. I sat at bar height tables along a long banquette and noshed on tapas while watching the ‘pretty people’ march by. As Boqueria doesn’t take reservations and its almost always packed, its very difficult to get a table in the back at peak dining hours without a wait. In the end, I think my selection of table was best in that I wasn’t crammed into the very tight seating in the back and I could people-watch and actually hear my dining mate simultaneously.

The menu is fairly limited for a tapas restaurant, yet it proves that bigger isn’t always better. The items to choose from are very well-curated, representing a range of flavors and textures. Our waitress recommended 4 to 6 dishes for a party of two, and we decided to start off with 4 and work upwards if necessary. We started off with the patatas bravas, a tapas classic, as everyone else around us seemed to start with it also. They were scrumptious – well-cooked, well-seasoned, doused in light yet flavorful spicy mayo. The potatoes were nice and crispy, not sogginess here! The ‘angry potatoes’ were followed by an heirloom tomato salad with watermelon, feta, and a vinaigrette. This was probably the weakest dish of the night – the tomatoes were not particularly flavorful and the vinaigrette was a little overpowering. The combination of flavors was a nice idea though – the sweetness of the watermelon was well-complemented by the sharpness of the cheese and the savoriness of the dressing.

After the two smaller plates, we had 2 meats: the suckling pig and the ‘hangar steak’. My dining companion and I were both convinced that the hangar steak was in fact a filet. It tasted exactly like the filets my mother used to broil at home and had the tenderness of a filet. Either way, it had a slightly chewy consistency despite its medium-rare temperature. The suckling pig was the star of the evening and was truly excellent. Almost buttery in its texture, the almost sweet pig meat just melted in your mouth – and the Valdeon blue cheese complemeneted the sweetness perfectly.

The 4 dishes were certainly enough for the two of us and despite our waitress’s desperate urging to order more, we closed the menu there. The sangria is worth noting – available in red, white and rose, it was out of this world delicious. It didn’t taste like Hi-C; it wasn’t too sweet; the fruit wasn’t soggy; and it wasn’t too pricey ($32 for a LARGE pitcher).

All in all, Boqueria is cheery and lively. It’s an excellent place to boost your spirits, enjoy some small plates, and chat with friends. Boqueria is well-suited for a raucous birthday party or after-work drinks. Just get there early, it gets packed early.

Boqueria on Urbanspoon

Pipa: Tapas for the New York Yuppie

Pipa gets top-marks for atmosphere. Clearly built to lure Flatiron’s yuppie population to its restaurant-in-a-furniture-store space, Pipa is just plain gorgeous. The ceiling is completely covered with sparkling crystal chandeliers, each its own unique piece of art. The chandeliers cast a dim glow over the cavernous space with dark wood tables, dark wood floors, and dark walls. Pipa just oozes romance – and lucky me, I was brought here for a birthday date!

Busy and buzzing, Pipa is seductive but also full of life and music. Half way through my dinner, a small flamenco troupe took the stage and added even more zest to the already considerably zesty experience. So zesty in fact, that I felt the need to highlight that in red.

The food is, unfortunately, just decent. Spanish and Latin American tapas, the food seems to get lost in the entire scene. So much attention is paid to the decor and entertainment that the cuisine falters. The menu is extensive, offering both traditional and more funky tapas dishes. On the traditional side are Spanish olives, mini chorizo, patatas bravas, arroz con pollo, paella, and ham croquettes, while some of the more innovative dishes include piquillos stuffed with crab meat, shrimp and paprika aioli, flat breads with mushrooms, figs, serrano ham, almonds, caramelized onions and truffle oil, shrimp pot pie, and pan-seared tuna with sauteed spinach and wasabi ginger aioli. My recommendation? Order a plethora of small dishes to taste as much as possible. Hidden within the average cuisine are some pretty delicious dishes, you just need to find Pipa’s culinary strengths. I just loved the Patatas Bravas – in my mind, roasted potatoes in spicy mayo is just heaven – as well as the paella, which was just the right consistency.

Aside from the average food, Pipa is supremely fun and visually stimulating. Yuppie couples, well-dressed groups of young women, and groups of suit-clad businessmen clamor for tables and space at the bar to partake in the revelry. If you’re looking for a good time with reliably good food and pitchers of sangria (how can you say no?), Pipa is your darling.

Pipa on Urbanspoon