Manzanilla’s Pulled Oxtail Brioche
New Yorkers embrace food from all over the world. We can’t get enough Korean, Thai, Japanese, Italian, Chinese, Vietnamese… you get the picture. But (and that’s a big but) we don’t typically take kindly to foreigners, at least not in the food department. Think about how many foreign restaurants have planted flags on our soil only to be sent back to their country defeated. Let’s be honest, many of them had it coming.
But from the sea of full tables in the dining room on a recent Saturday night, that’s not the case for Manzanilla, a brand new Spanish spot in Gramercy. Owner Yann de Rochefort who brought two Boqueria outposts to Manhattan has now teamed up with two-star Michelin, Spanish import, Dani Garcia. Unlike so many avant-garde Spanish eateries, the food at Manzanilla doesn’t try to push the envelope too far. Instead of cutting edge cooking (of the molecular gastronomy kind), Manzanilla aims to be more of a Spanish brasserie. The menu is decidedly approachable with plenty of shareable plates and contemporary twists on familiar Spanish classics. That’s not to say the plates aren’t sophisticated because they are, much more so than your average tapas joint.
There are plenty of worthwhile bites, especially the Cured Scallops plated in a tangy Ajo Blanco (white gazpacho thickened with almonds), alongside crispy serrano ham chips, and a Steamed Brioche, stuffed with a decadent melange of pulled Oxtail, mushrooms and kale. We shared a tangy, bright appetizer of Cured Tomato Tartare,
seasoned like Steak Tartare with capers, mustard and the like, served on Toast, as well as a terrific Black Rice Dish stained with briny Squid Ink and crowned with Shrimp and Cuttlefish Ribbons. If you want to keep it traditional, you can order the Iberico Pork Charcuterie Platter or a Selection of Artisanal Spanish Cheeses with Smoked Garlic and Quince Paste. Some dishes are more successful than others: The Pulpo A La Gallega, made with Smoked Octopus, potatoes and paprika, was unusually oily, and the Tortillita Gaditana, tasted like a stale, salty chips and dip of sort with listless shrimp crackers and a spicy mayo dipping sauce.
Squid Ink & Cuttlefish Croquettes
But the Croquettes are worth a visit alone! These aren’t just any old breaded fritters. Far from it. These warm, gooey nuggets are laced with squid ink, cuttlefish and bechamel, of course, then dabbed with a duo of sauces. On the top of each ball of deliciousness there’s a tasty coriander aioli and on the bottom is a vibrant Citrus Aioli. They arrive at the table in a porcelain egg carton, six to an order, so plan accordingly as you’ll want to claim at least three for yourself. I also highly recommend the Seared Iberico Pork, which is seared and sliced, much like a steak, and cooked to a juicy medium rare, plated with tomato pesto and potatoes. As for dessert, I’d skip the Rice Pudding and order another glass of Spanish wine off a very extensive, impressive menu, or even better, a Spanish sherry to cap off the evening.