Ken Oringer's five Boston area restaurants—including the flagship Clio in the Eliot Hotel, sashimi bar Uni, pizza and salumi bar Coppa, taqueria La Verded, and the original Toro in Boston's South End—are still key players in the Boston scene, but the new branch of Toro recently opened in Chelsea is his first move in New York. Here's a look at how their paella, a large-format dish in several variations, is made.
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The Spanish menu created by Mexican chef-consultant Ignacio Carballido (Cafe El Portal and Casa Mezcal) at Peix Bar de Mariscos is simple to the extreme—most dishes are nothing more than pristine seafood, a bit of olive oil, and some good technique—but compelling. It's easy to respect a chef who has the sense to let the ingredients do most of the work for him, letting their own creativity ride in the passenger seat.
In a case of rapid New York City restaurant turnover, the space that once was Aliseo Osteria Del Borgo, the Italian spot on Vanderbilt Avenue in Prospect Heights, is now La Mujer Gala, a tapas and small plates restaurant that leans more heavily on true, Spanish-style tapas than on the generic small (but typically expensive) plates offered all over town these days. Though a meal here has some pleasures, the menu needs some work.
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. They make for an actually affordable small plates menu, with good entrées to boot.
El Mio Cid sits on the corner of Starr and Wilson in Bushwick, 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 belongs to Old Bushwick, El Mio Cid belongs to Old Spain.
Roast pork, roasted peppers, and melty cheese: there's a lot going on in this sandwich.
This Moroccan restaurant in Murray Hill is dominated by a large wooden bar, decorated with palm fronds. The air is redolent with spices, and the regulars greeting the staff lend the space the air of bonhomie I would expect from an ex-pat bar halfway across the world.
Cobble Hill's La Vara has a whole fried section of the menu. The very first: these formidable fried artichokes, drizzled with anchovy aioli.
A tapas riddle to get things started: what's better than Tía Pol, less crowded than Casa Mono, and an overall delightful place to eat? Anyone? Such a brainteaser actually has an easy answer: the East Village's Nai.
Boqueria might only open at noon, but one taste of their cojonudo ($6)—roughly translated as "awesome" in Spanish—and you will have found breakfast heaven.
They say tapas make the world go round. Ok, they don't really say that, but they would if more tapas menus included fried olives ($7) like Olea's Tavernera in Fort Greene.
You never know if tapas are actually going to be a good deal, so I was a bit apprehensive before visiting Tia Pol for the first time. Turns out that my fears were unwarranted. And the pig's ears would have been worth double what I paid.
After how the food will taste, there are two big questions for diners at a tapas restaurant, vegetarian or otherwise: "How much will I have to spend?" and "Will I be full after eating?" We each ordered a glass of txakoli, the sparkling Basque white wine that is the traditional accompaniment to tapas, and tried to answer those questions.
The fútbol and the playlist can work against romance, to be sure (and not taking plastic may irritate some), but the raucous atmosphere of tapas joints further downtown--Casa Mono, say, or Boqueria--is dialed back at the comparatively restrained Manolo, making it more conducive to courting. With its almost-there atmosphere and range of authentic, interesting dishes Manolo is best for: a getting-to-know-you date.
In a season of highly anticipated openings, Seamus Mullen's Tertulia was up there with RedFarm as one of September's most talked-about. "[The] rich, deceptively sophisticated menu... does for tapas-style Spanish cuisine what Batali did for Italian pastas and April Bloomfield did for English pub food," wrote Adam Platt in New York Magazine last week. If you've been reading this early press, you'd believe it's the opening of the year. But that wasn't quite our experience.
That more New Yorkers don't know the name Harrison Mosher, executive chef of Alta in the West Village, is a crying shame, though you wouldn't guess there was a dearth of press trying to push your way through the long, crowded bar and foyer on your way to the main dining area.
As restaurant neighborhoods go, the East Village is the equivalent of a Honduran tilapia farm: packed to the gills and in danger of polluting the ecosystem (in this case, with middling restaurants). But Pata Negra, sandwiched into a narrow space on 12th Street between the takeout and proper restaurant locations of mac-and-cheese stalwart S'MAC, has proven itself as a sleeper in the tradition of Spain's best tapas bars, and the area is better for it. Wallets and waistlines, not so much.
Packed into the back end of Casa Mono is sister establishment Bar Jamon, the teeny-tiny wine bar serving cold tapas and wine to the dozen or so customers that can fit inside. I snagged two of the last seats just after 6 p.m.; by 6:30 the wine bar was packed to the gills with drinkers.
At Casa Mono, the Foie Gras ($19) is of a perfect portion for lunch. Dinner here is chaotic and so is brunch, but a late afternoon lunch is the best time for a relaxed meal.
At Beauty & Essex, the younger and sexier sister to Lower East Side bar Stanton Social, dressed-up cocktails require equally fashionable bar bites. Owner and chef Chris Santos reprises his global small plates cuisine here, whimsically intermingling world influences --Asian, European, Latin American, New American--into delicate nibbles perfect for a ladies night out or a special date night.