May 7, 2018 | BITE: My Journal
A jungle of greens signals the almost hidden entrance to the new Boqueria on 40th Street.
Yet another Boqueria, this one almost hidden by construction inside a barricade on West 40th Street. And young New Yorkers are finding it. I imagine many of them were in diapers when New York’s adventurous foodies first felt the lust for tapas.
Is it poetry, sophistry or advertising? Don’t be offended. You’re here for the tapas.
There’s no longer any need to explain tapas to innocents from the western slope, the glaciers or small Texas towns. It’s just another adopted ritual, no more exotic than dan dan noodles or an uni hand roll or spaghetti bottarga or any other import that’s becoZme a naturalized commodity at dinner.
The bar up front makes a square that divides the room. You can eat there and flirt and, yes, order a drink.
Indeed, if you grew up on sangria and seafood pintxos, you’ll think I’m out of my mind with these prehistoric asides.
This Boqueria takes reservations. At least, a pleasant voice took my anonymous request. Now we’re four sitting at one of the tall tables, in a booth with our feet tucked onto metal bars, a perch that brings us eye to eye with our server and can be a challenge for lame knees and elderly feet. Still these days even the elderly are gym rats so we can handle it. It’s clamorous too, but not unbearable.
Bourbon and mescal with pineapple juice on the rocks and two charred chunks of fruit calls out to me.
Fire roasted eggplant is tossed with red pepper and onion on a drink of labne yogurt.
Shall I order a sangria of the day from the special Market menu? The Pomela Rosa mixes white wine, gin, Campari, Aperol, and fresh grapefruit. The Rosada with rosé wine, tequila, cranberry and hibiscus-soaked strawberries sounds too sweet for me.
There are so many compelling choices on the menu but I tend to be a dictator rather than wait for agreement.
Some tapa dancers like to sit at the counter fronting the kitchen.
The everyday Pina a la Plancha with bourbon, mezcal, white wine and charred pineapple on the rocks calls out to me. I sip it slowly with the first share dish delivered by our server Christina, peppy and beyond attentive. Fire-roasted eggplant tossed with red pepper and onion on a drift of labne yogurt is meant to pile on flatbread. It doesn’t look very promising, but it bursts with flavor and even our eggplant naysayer likes it.
Fresh spinach leaves are scattered with garlic, chickpeas, pine nuts and golden raisins.
With tapas we’re at the mercy of the kitchen’s pace, so I don’t order everything at once. When dishes converge, the parking space can disappear. A busser and sometimes two come with bowls, a duo for us, one for a couple at the big island bar across the aisle. Very efficient.
From our elevated booth along the wall we have a voyeur’s view of the bar action.
I resist ordering the spinach, anticipating a sodden clot of green, but the warm baby leaves scattered with shaved garlic, chickpeas, pine nuts and golden raisins that show up are surprisingly sweet and fresh.
Mushrooms, Idiázabal cheese, caramelized onions, and pine nuts anchor on porcini purée in this flatbread.
Grilled flatbread frosted with porcini purée and topped with wild mushrooms, idiazabal cheese, caramelized onions and pine nuts, sprigs of arugula wilting on top, is remarkably flavorful too.
Some folks scrape away the fat. Others devour it. It’s roasted pork belly, after all.
I try to scrape the fresh fat from the crusty skin of the roasted pork belly, while across the table Dana blithely downs it all. Perhaps when you walk five or six miles a day, exercise checkmates fat.
Thick slices of cucumber are a curious pairing with lusty lamb meatballs in tomato sauce.
Juicy little bites of lamb on skewers arrive in pairs on toast.
Colorado lamb meatballs in a rich tomato sauce with sheep’s milk cheese are rich and filling too. When we complain that the small skewered chunks of lamb on toasted bread are not rare as we’d ordered, our server gathers up two orders and brings back a replacement – the meat, smeared with a seductive salsa verde, now also wondrously rare.
Something unfortunate happened to this octopus on its way to our table that made it inedible.
Given how good most everything is, the $19 grilled octopus with fennel and smoked pimentón on mashed potatoes is a shock. It tastes old and perhaps cooked twice, definitely too tough to chew. We chase away our disappointment with warm and sweet Nutella-filled churros, from a dessert list that is impressively tempting.
There are several tempting dessert choices, but at least the Nutella-filled churros are small.
Many years have passed since tapas were a mystery. As I write this, I’m reminded of 2002 when José Andrés, a young chef I’d never met, flew from Washington to introduce us to his Barcelona, and my guy Steven Richter and I, documented the highs for Food Arts Magazine. Spring had already come to that part of Spain in January and we got to tag along on Jose’s invitation to a calzotada, a picnic for eating leek-like calzots – grilled and wrapped in newspaper to steam till tender. Click here to read Barcelona Dine-a-Thon.
Everyone knows Jose Andres now as a hero. He was our hero when he come to introduce us to Barcelona.
Did it take six years for the golden age of tapas to bloom in Manhattan? It wasn’t until 2008 that I set out with Gerry Dawes, an importer of Spanish wines, on a heady Tapas Crawl that took us two evenings to document. I would promise myself to only taste but again and again, I find myself eating.
Here a photo of tapas by my late companion, Steven Richter, from my first review of Boqueria.
This is not to claim my academic credentials. It’s just to say that this one meal at Boqueria stands out, now that tapas are everyday and so many restaurants want to lure us into thinking we’ll spend less money if we order small plates. With one drink each -- $12 sangrias and two glasses of $14 white wine – our tab with tip and tax is $54 each.
When Dana walked by to shoot the kitchen, this little girl insisted she photograph her too.
I meant to order the squid with artichoke and Calabrian chiles. I’m sorry we didn’t taste an assortment of cheeses or a classic omelet or the creamy croquettas. Usually, I must have patatas bravas with roasted garlic aioli. Next time we might try the shellfish paella. I think it was the flatbread that filled us up, and pork belly fat.
I had my eye on the guy with the black hat – he seemed restless. Then I caught him in this uninhibited embrace.
260 West 40th Street between Seventh and Eighth avenues. 646 233 4078. Breakfast from 6:30 am to 10:30 am weekdays and 7 am to 11 am weekends. Brunch Saturday and Sunday 11 am to 3 pm. Dinner Sunday and Monday 4 pm to 10 pm. Tuesday through Thursday 4 pm to 10:30 pm. Friday and Saturday 4 pm to 11:30 pm
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