October 15, 2007 | Insatiable Critic

Reality at Pamplona 

Juicy rabbit is a rarity in Pamplon's fine paella. Photo: Steven Richter
Juicy rabbit is a rarity in Pamplon's fine paella. Photo: Steven Richter

         Pamplona is chef/owner Alex Urena’s bow to reality.  Urena, his passionate celebration of molecular cooking in this same modest space, didn’t pay the bills.  Now he gives New Yorkers Spanish classics that are easy to love. Familiar tapas are expertly done – crunchy salt cod croquettes, eggplant meatballs, fritters of ham, cheese and cider. A lush paella, mixing rabbit and chorizo with squid and mussels, is meant to share.

Urena unusual gazpacho.Photo: Steven Richter
     We arrive in this dark, mostly beige, rather somber room with its smart glass dividers and a few mirrors to find our two guests at a cocktail table, happily sipping blood orange margaritas and sharing smoked  chorizo popcorn. “May I take this popcorn to the table?” my niece from Montana asks. You’re not likely to hear “no” here.

          Urena, veteran of nine years with David Bouley, father as of that morning to a second child, has forsaken most revolutionary Ferranadriesque urges but not his bent for hospitality.  When he isn’t up front slicing ham for patrons at the bar or rushing out back to oversee a sensational truffle oil-poached egg with white asparagus salad, chorizo and pimento del piquillo sauce, he’s stopping by the table to make suggestions. Everything is presented with flair, stylish and rustic.

          A first-rate passion fruit mohito is an instant mellower and soon we’re into a thickly creamy gazpacho with shrimp floating and surprisingly, goat cheese, swirled into a big black bowl. The chef might like you to try the sea scallops with apple stuffing, blood sausage and truffle yogurt – a brave gathering I resisted, but he also offers hamburguesa, with slivers of suckling pig and chorizo. All at reasonable prices.

         Reality, after all.

37 East 28th Street, Park Ave South 212 213 2328