171 Spring Street (between West Broadway and Thompson; map); (212) 343 4255; boquerianyc.com
Cuisine: Spanish Tapas
Veggie Options: about 8 tapas options, plus cheeses
Cost: Tapas are $5-12; plan on spending at least $25, before drinks
New York is no Barcelona, but an evening at a tapas bar still has a lot to recommend it: a lively place to gather with friends and a pitcher of sangria or a bottle of Albariño, a grazing meal made up of well-seasoned bites of this and that.
But often, "this and that" means jamón and chorizo, squid and salt cod. While Boqueria (which has a branch in Soho and another in the Flatiron district) is probably not the best tapas in New York City, its broad menu makes it pretty good option for groups that include vegetarians. Cobbling together a meal this way can get pricey, but it can also be tasty and enjoyable.
We ordered five plates for two people, which was about right. Our favorite bite of the evening was our first: the artichoke montados ($5) from the menu of daily specials. The two toasts (perched on some rather sad wilted arugula) were topped with a thin spread of herbed yogurt and a chunky mixture of artichoke hearts, olives, and preserved lemon. Salty, savory, and sour, it was an burst of sunny flavors, a tart bite to get your mouth watering. If you're dining with a larger group, you may want to order a few sets of these so everyone gets some; they'd be tricky to split Lady-and-the-Tramp-style.
Onto the classics. Boqueria's patatas bravas ($8) are salty and well-crisped, served piping hot with a garlicky tomato sauce and drizzled with a roasted garlic aioli. They're a perfect drinking food, in the way that crispy potatoes in all forms tend to be.
We loved the simple preparation of the Pimientos del Padron ($7), fried until blistered but still fresh-tasting, with lots of flaky sea salt. Some have a bit of a kick, but they're mostly mild and may induce finger-licking. I would have been happy just snacking away on these all night.
The chard and mushroom croquetas ($12) come six to a plate: there are three of each type. They're creamy inside—nearly liquefied, and they sit in a sauce that's liberally dosed with truffle oil. We slightly preferred the fresh green flavor of the chard ones, but if you've ever dreamed of deep-fried cream of mushroom soup, you'll love the mushroom version. While these didn't come close to beating my favorite croquetas in the city (found at Degustation in the East Village), it's hard to turn down these rich bites.
Our final plate, the grilled asparagus with romesco ($10) was the only one that didn't really sing for me. The slender spears took on an impressive amount of smoky flavor, but they were topped with a lemony shaved asparagus and flat parsley salad that added a slightly jarring bitter note to asparagus that was already basically all char. Without the garnish, there wasn't really anything wrong, but the dish didn't come together for me the way that I wanted it to.
If you've got a larger group, you could add on some salads and cheeses, or spinach cooked with chickpeas and pine nuts. Those who eat meat should probably sample the hand-cut ham and the dates stuffed with Valdéon and wrapped in bacon. But that's the beauty of tapas: so many different bites mean there's something for everyone.