I have an ambivalent relationship with small plate restaurants in New York City; I want to taste everything that they have to offer... but they are usually too expensive to allow a small party to try more than four or five dishes for a reasonable price. There is always a reluctance to order that one extra dish, the one that you're just sort of curious about, but will cost an additional 8-13 dollars.
The pintxos menu at Jarro XIV liberates you from any such dilemma. The dozen or so Mediterranean-inspired canapés (all $5 or less) are thoughtfully constructed, with great attention paid to the balance of savory, sweet, sour, and bitter flavors. The ingredients are also considerably more exciting than the olives, nuts, and other low cost items you'd find on a typical tapas menu.
The fluke ($5) would not be out of place on a three-star tasting menu. Cured in salt, sugar, and spices, the opaque flakes of flounder are topped with smoked salt and tiny marinated honjimeji mushrooms. It's a wonderfully delicate bite, further brightened by a ribbon of sweet and sour blood orange purée.
Chef Rodrigo Nogueira, formerly of Monkey Bar and Collichio & Sons, subtly uses smoke to great effect. The smoked cherry tomatoes under the white anchovies on toast ($4) elevate a common crostino to something much more interesting. Similarly, skewers of braised and flash-fried pork belly ($4) find balance with a bacon sherry gastrique and a sweet marmalade.
You could easily make a satisfying meal off the pintxos menu without breaking the bank, but larger, more traditional entrées are also reasonably priced. The Striped bass ($22) has a nicely crisped skin and is served over a hearty bowl of baby potatoes, Swiss chard, littleneck clams, tomatoes, and fish broth. A side Jarro potato ($8) is equally satisfying, topped with Parmesan, cheddar, creme fraiche, and sour cream, and then stuffed with mushrooms and caramelized onions.
The open space, with well-worn couches and mismatched tables and chairs, gives Jarro something of a neighborhood coffee shop feel; many diners linger long after their meals. A solo diner could pop in and spend ten bucks for a few quick interesting bites, while a large group could spend hours lounging on the couches, drinking and tasting their way through the pintxos menu.