Serious Eats: New York
Date Night: Uneven Spanish Fare at El Mio Cid
El Mio Cid takes its name seriously. In a statement on their menu, the owners explain that in gracing their Bushwick tapas restaurant with the moniker of the Spanish hero, "we committed ourselves to keeping his same high standards for our decidedly much more mundane endeavors." While a meal at El Mio Cid might not conquer you, it won't leave you bruised or unsatisfied either.
The menu divides its tapas into "frias" and "calientes." The mid-November winds rampaging up Wilson Avenue made that choice easy, and we opted for three hot dishes to start. First up was cordoniz en salsa de higos ($9.50). The inky black fig sauce did much of the heavy lifting here, as the three tiny quail had been over-roasted into toughness. But we ate what we could and used the crusty bread to scoop up the sauce, laden with chunks of fig.
Better were the setas rellenas ($8.50), mushrooms stuffed with a pillowy mixture of crab, shrimp, and scallops. These became nicer still when rolled in the melted butter. Then again, there's not much melted butter doesn't help. Even without the butter, the seafood stuffing had good tang and bounce.
We also ordered the pollo al ajillo ($8), strips of chicken breast and french fries covered in garlic sauce. Of all the tapas we tried, this one would work best as bar food, as the miscellany of carbs, protein, and grease would soak up the alcohol. Everything had the same brownish hue, so each forkful was a mystery of proportion. This sauce boasted slivers of garlic, and an undercurrent of bitterness cut what could have been too much sweet roasted garlic.
As our lone entrée, we split the spicy chorizo paella ($16.50). Let's begin with the bad news: we missed the socarrat, the crusty layer of rice and spice that forms at the bottom of the paella pan. And now for the good news: this was a heaping plate of happiness, cheerful with saffron, overflowing with tongue-tingling, fat-marbled sausage, along with onions, peppers, and peas.
El Mio Cid sits on the corner of Starr and Wilson, a cheerful yellow facade, bordered with plants, across from dollar stores and a bunker-like middle school. Just as this part of the neighborhood still feels like Old Bushwick, El Mio Cid feels like Old Spain. Drapes are dark and heavy, the food is sizable and un-re-or-de-constructed. Our server sang along to Spanish ballads without a hint of self-consciousness or irony. This tapas restaurant in Bushwick is best for: an escuela vieja date.