When we think of Spanish food, we spend a lot of time stuck in the past: traditional preparations, classic dishes, and timeless flavors are king. But Basque chef Luis Bollo feels differently. Arguably the first chef to bring modernist Spanish cuisine to New York with his innovative pioneer restaurant, Meigas, Bollo was a little ahead of the curve, and the restaurant relocated to Connecticut after just two years despite critical acclaim. In 2011, he brought Basque Country back to the city with Salinas, which revives classic dishes by infusing them with modern technique. "Tradition is the star," Bollo says, "but we need to show that we can evolve."
Whether he's searching for fresh fish to dry and salt himself, or wants to sit down to tortilla espanola the way his grandmother used to make it, here are the places Luis goes for a taste of San Sebastian.
There's not a lot of Spanish stores. There's one where you can find almost everything, and a few where you can find a few things. The only store in New York that's really Spanish is Despaña. It's a company where you can find many different Spanish products, including dried cured meats, any kind of spice like pimenton, saffron, all kinds of paprika, and the high-end canned products we use in Spanish cooking like anchovies, boquerones, tuna, etc. They have the canned products from my home town of San Sebastian, the same companies I used to buy at home. They've been making their own chorizo for over a decade, and they have lots of different ones, like sobrasada, a soft Spanish chorizo that comes from Mallorca (but they make their own) and txitorra, a fresh sausage that you normally cook a la plancha, so it's juicy on the inside and crispy on the outside.
Fairway has a good selection of olives. I can't find every kind of olive all the time, but they often have Gordal and Empeltre olives. I do a lot of my cooking with those black Empeltres; they're good for tapenades.
Murray's Cheese has a great variety of Spanish cheeses like Garrotxa and Monte Enebro, which are soft Spanish cheeses. They sell a good amount of these, and keep them in a controlled environment so they don't dry out.
Across the street from Salinas there's an F. Rozzo & Sons fish market. They sell fresh seafood every day, and I go every day, the same way I would in a Spanish fish market, to see what's good. We make our own bacalao (a dried codfish often used for stuffing), so I buy the best fresh black or white codfish from them and salt it myself. They also have great whiting, which we call merluza: it's the king of fishes in Spain, and they have it there almost every day. They have all the Mediterranean fishes like branzino, the tuna that you'd find in Southern Spain, langoustines, etc. They're very nice people, and they allow me to go check on what I like. They know that I know about food, and that I'm Basque—we eat a lot of seafood.
Tinto Fino is a shop that specializes in Spanish wine; they have wine from all regions of Spain. Wines from Rioja, anywhere—whatever you want.
Socarrat is doing the best job. They recently opened a third location. Lolo (the founder) has been focusing on paella and almost nothing else. Even though he's just doing one thing, he makes a different preparation for every different paella. He buys the right rice: bomba and calasparra. He cooks it right, with the finest seafood and Spanish products. It's always on-point.
There are so many places, but Chef Andy Nusser at Casa Mono has really elevated tapas to a culinary category. Before them, tapas were something of the past. Casa Mono's tapas are influenced by all over, not just from Spain, with notes from Northern Africa and other areas. They have a croquette with goat cheese that I tried last time, and really liked. It's simple, consistent, high-quality, and creative.
I've tried different tortillas in the city, but the tortilla at Boqueria is classic, with a high content of potato and a small amount of egg, and it's very consistent. There are people who like a different ratio of potato, onion, and egg, but this is the way my grandma used to cook it.
Tía Pol does a fabulous job with their papas bravas. The sauce is good, and they make them the way I like, with the sauce mixed in rather than on top, so you get a lot of flavor.
The best I've tried wasn't at a Spanish restaurant; it was at Mercadito, which is Mexican. They have two kinds, but I love the one with goat cheese and caramel. It's experimental, and flan is the kind of dessert where you can do that.
Café Con Leche
I love Prodigy Coffee. Uou can have a café con leche there even though it's not on the menu. Their espresso is also really good.
The owner of Txikito worked for me when I opened Meigas in 2000, and I have a lot of confidence in him. He cooks Basque cuisine in a very casual way, with high quality ingredients. It's creative comfort food.
El Pote serves Castillian cuisine. Their sopa de ajo (garlic soup), paella, rack of lamb, fideos, and octopus cooked Galican-style are all very good. They keep the way of cooking the same way it used to be. I go when I want to get the authentic, old-fashioned flavors. The chef/owner has been there a long time, over thirty years, and cooks the same food right every day.
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