53 West 19th Street (btwn. 5th & 6th Aves.)
Not one for the communal table trend that has sprung onto New York’s restaurant
scene, I was hesitant to accept a seat at Boqueria’s, the
centerpiece of this bustling dining room. But with a long wait ahead for privacy, I reluctantly plunged into the giant table full of strangers. But they weren’t strangers for long: before I knew it, a diner at the far end was offering me a glass of sangria, the beginning of an evening of plate passing and tapas sharing.
It’s the simple pleasures that stand out at Boqueria and there are many to be had; warm cabrales & almond-stuffed dates,
generously wrapped in thick, salty bacon, is a beautiful blend of sweet & savory. Another rite of passage are the padron peppers,
roasted to a blistery perfection and simply seasoned with coarse sea
salt, some with a surprise kick. When available, snatch up at least one order of the cuttlefish special; a sensational snarl of cuttlefish prepared two ways (plancha-grilled & cured in lemon juice), both superiorly tender, pleasingly punctuated with slivers of apple, plump peas, garlic, shallots and mint.
The three croquetas are another story; nicely crusty on the
outside, the centers were lukewarm bechamel with fillings so
indistinguishable, we couldn’t be certain which one was ham, chicken or mushroom. Equally, the salt cod was lost in a tangle of frisee and pear slices, overdressed in a “Picada” vinaigrette.
Onto the paella, which was a delectable and crunchy surprise; a bed of twice-cooked Calasparra rice, bathed in a bright mussel broth, then dotted with tender mussels, plump shrimp, chicken and chorizo. I found myself competing with my newfound eating partners over the boldly flavored chunks of chorizo (I suggest adding more or a food fight could break out on my next visit).
But there were some missteps on the menu, which came mostly in the form of salads, a confusion of competing and incompatible flavors, as well as dried-out meat dishes. After dabbling in the lamb offerings on repeat visits, I’m forced to conclude that lamb’s not Boqueria’s strong suit. The grilled lamb tapas, accented with lemon and cumin, could’ve easily been mistaken for indistinct cubes of beef. And there was nothing fall-off-the bone about an over-cooked lamb shank, which tasted gamey, oddly paired with plums and a thick, tart yogurt, which only confounded the flavors further.
I wasn’t expecting such a fulfilling ending to the meal, but along came
the chocolate and hazelnut mousse, two luscious pudding-like puffs, one
of rich coffee-spiked mousse, the other, a dark chocolate counterpart.
As if that weren’t enough, the accompanying hazelnut ice cream, sprinkled
with candied hazelnut crumble, made dessert at Boqueria a truly
decadent affair – one that’s most definitely worth saving room for.
Though the food’s not perfect, Boqueria’s clearly getting better everyday as was made evident by the patatas bravas, which on my first visit arrived sadly chewy and bland; by my second they had made crispy headway, although still lacking in the spice department; but on the third visit they had clinched a perfectly crispy potato, laced with a spicy aioli. There’s another reason that people are packing into the cozy bar area to wait for a table: perhaps it’s the notion of eating in a stylish space, refreshingly smaller than an airplane hangar (Buddha Bar quickly comes to mind), or maybe it’s the simple, but inspired Spanish fare, both lacking in even the slightest hint of pretension.
Until we eat again,
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