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seeking better tapas...

  • n

ate dinner at cafe espanol on carmine on saturday, and was less than pleased. i had suggested pintxos (based on walking by it numerous times) or la nacional (based on chowhound reports), but my friend found this restaurant on zagat's or citysearch or something.

my friend and i split the garlic shrimp appetizer and the paella with lobster. my other friend had red snapper. my friend with the red snapper liked the flavor but couldn't get over the rubberiness...only managed half of it. my friend who shared the paella with me raved about it...the sheer size of the dish and the great smell were definitely impressive. but after i started eating i began to question what she was tasting. the lobster was fine, as was the sausage and rice. but the shrimp were flavorless and a bit too firm, scallops were very rubbery, and mussels had large gritty pieces that hurt my teeth far too much to qualify as "sand." good sangria, though.

so that's my review of cafe espanol, but i'd also like to know what others think of my original suggestions. i searched for pintxos on this site and found very little...i was surprised because i heard from a few people that it was wonderful...but i never saw a big crowd so perhaps it's still somewhat unknown? as for la nacional, the few posts i found were absolute raves, but one poster mentioned it had "no atmosphere." just to clarify, would that be more like flor's kitchen or more like bereket? just wondering!

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  1. Hi
    I really like Oliveta for tapas. Small place, crowded, but great food.

    4 Replies
    1. re: sara

      Do you mean Oliva on Allen and East Houston? If so, I like that place too!

      1. re: Flynn

        yes! Sorry -- Oliva! I was getting the name mixed up w/ that great Italian place in Oakland-Oliveta.
        Oliva--great food.

        1. re: sara

          i've passed this place so many times and never realized it was a tapas restaurant. since we're in the area so much we should check it out...thanks!

      2. I've been to two places I really enjoy. Solera is at 53rd between Second and Third Ave. It has a great Spanish wine and sherry selection, fabulous paella and a good selection of tapas.

        The other place is Pipa, on 19th between Broadway and Park. Wide selection of tapas, and great sangria (both red and white).

        1. I really enjoy La Paella in the East Village. They're also known for their sangria which does a great job of complementing the food. I've been there 3 times now and have never been disappointed. Try it!

          6 Replies
          1. re: Rachael

            La Paella is definitely my favorite, too. I've had some downright nasty food at Xunta, but have always been pleased with La Paella.

            1. re: BGrey

              so we finally made it into xunta today, and it was godawful. according to me. not according to anyone else. then again, we had been at a pretty cheap happy hour at whiskey ward and started in on the sangria immediately after arriving at xunta....but after my disappointment here and at cafe espanol the other day, one of my friends asked incredulously, "do you like ANYTHING?"

              but i don't think i was out of line. first of all, the food came WAY too fast for my liking...i mean, where was it coming from? the tortilla espanol was cold, not room temp, cold. the spicy potatoes were just fried potatoes with vinegary hot sauce on top. in addition, i had actually wanted the garlic potatoes and one person at our table who had studied for a semester in sevilla actually tried to convince me that was what i had asked for! codfish empanada...seemed microwaved? warm in some parts, cool in others. sangria...was there fruit in that?

              i'm sorry, i know some people have said this is just an uneven place and can be quite tasty, and my VERY drunk friends liked it so i may need to try again sometime...just not too soon.

              p.s. in case i sound too critical (not likely on chowhound) the bad places are just so much easier to criticize, of course. there have been many more delicious places than i can name, but if someone asked me about them, i'd readily praise those places. the few bad places are just easier to reel off the top of my head.

              1. re: Nancy

                From your description of the food, it sounds authentic. Maybe you just don't like Spanish food.

                1. re: ironmom

                  i don't know, i've always loved tapas everywhere else i've been, but admittedly have no experience with other types of spanish food. as for two of the specific examples i gave, every place i've been (in new york, portland, chicago, etc) served tortilla espanol that was either warm or at room temp--definitely not fresh from the fridge--and garlic potatoes that were mayonnaise-based and so garlicky my tongue was stinging--no hint of having been fried, and definitely no hot sauce. i am pretty sure that was just the wrong dish however, since "spicy" potatoes were also listed on the menu. the chorizo was good however, and the FLAVOR of the codfish empanada was fine, it was just the half-warm half-cold that was off-putting.

                2. re: Nancy

                  First off for reference, you guys were closer to 1492(Clinton /Rivington) which has superior Sangria and some decent tapa's. Its a nicer room in my opinion as well. If you go try their olives. I don't know what those lovely green suckers are soaking in, but they are seriously addictive. The same cannot be said for the serving of canned olives Xunta served up to me recently. I've been twice in the last couple of months and the last time the food wasn't that great. We oredered a bunch of stuff too. I'm trying to remember one memorable thing. I tried the bacon wrapped dates that some other chowhounders have swooned over. good not great. I'd have to say this place is slipping. I'd suggest 1492. or for some of the better tapa's I've had in NYC . EL Cid, but the place isn't as festive as Xunta.

                  1. re: SLAP

                    i think the festive-ness is what most of my friends want when they want tapas, but some of the better tapas meals i've had--i have already been to la paella and loved it, but appreciate posters who suggested it!--were more quiet, intimate affairs. so el cid may be a good one to try for me.

            2. I've been a fan of Pintxos since they opened. IMHO the best/most authentic tapas in NYC. Although they don't have the rolicking atmosphere (read crowded smoky and noisy) of someplace like Xunta, I'm much more inclined to trade that for good food that actually gets served to me (unlike at Xunta where I never seemed to be able to get anyone's attention at the bar). The menu is very much geared towards Basque/San Sebastian style tapas. They do have fantastic salt cod (either creamed or creamed then fried as fritters) and squid in its own ink. Avoid the dessert though, as last time I was there I saw the cook dumping out a Goya flan onto a plate.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Ryan

                mmm...sounds wonderful. haven't had the squid-in-its-own-ink dish in months and months! i have a friend who is dying to try xunta mainly because the few times we've attempted to go it's been impossible to get in, so it's sort of become this thing we need to accomplish. but it seems most chowhoundly people don't believe xunta is all that and a bag of chips.

                is pintxos ever a madhouse, or is it pretty doable at 8ish on a weekend night?

              2. I went last night to Cafe Espanol for the first time in the village (on Bleeker) and was curious what others thought of it. Perhaps the critics of it went on an off night because I am very surprised- I personally loved it and I just came back from Spain.
                The tortilla espanola was FRESH. (and obviously hot). Believe it or not it was better than the ones I had in Spain! (And I had a lot of tortilla in more than one city)
                The gazpacho was delicious and fresh. The arroz con pollo was enourmous and delicious. The crema catalana was flamed tableside and was absolutely yummy (like creme brulee but not as heavy). Yes they serve tortilla chips when you sit down but they replace them soon with bread. My only critiques is that you have to ask for olive oil to dip your bread in (they bring butter) and that the chicken with garlic was a different recipe than what I had in Madrid (but I cannot blame the restaurant for that- obviously there must be numerous interpretations- and it was still yummy). But the place is adorable and definitely a bargain for the value. Perhaps because it's been a while since this thread began that people have changed their minds? :}