Las Ramblas - Yum!
A friend and I went to Las Ramblas last night for the first time and most definitely not the last. i had seen some very positive reviews on here, and was definitely impressed.
We got there around 7 last night and were seated in one of the window tables which was perfect since they had opened up the front of the restaurant-- nice to be able to eat outside-ish in November! We ordered the sparkling strawberry sangria which was very good, but could have been stronger.
For tapas we went with the marinated olives, the scallops special served with tomato and ham, the shrimp in garlic and wine sauce, and the portabello mushroom special in a balsamic reduction. Everything was delicious. the scallops were tender, the shrimp wasn't overpowered by the garlic, and the mushrooms were phenomenal (I may be biased on that being a balsamic vinegar lover).
We ordered an orange creme brulee type dessert which was the only thing that didn't stun, but was still respectable. The staff was very friendly and accomodating, refilling our glasses before we knew we needed a refill, offering us more bread, and staying on top of our plates (since room at the small tables was at a premium). When there was a 'computer mix up' with our dessert and it was delayed, they brought us two free glasses of an after dinner wine, whose name I can't remember but had a honey taste to it.
I'm looking forward to going back.
I want to add a rave review for Las Ramblas here. We went on a Wednesday night (1/3/7) so the place was not packed but definitely hopping. Before I describe the food I want to say that the friendly, enthusiastic, very well-informed, totally unpretentious staff provided just about the best and most pleasant service we have had in a year. I hope they handle a packed weekend night as well--I would be surprised if they don't.
Overall, I felt that Ramblas provides a tapas experience that was closest to Madrid of any place we have tried in NYC. Much less expensive and more relaxed than Tia Pol, with solid, consistent food.
What we ate:
Boquerones: super fresh, absolutely unfishy, perfect shiny ones, interestingly served on a bed of crisp fried green onion slivers
Shrimp "San Martin": a take on gambas al ajillo, served sizzling, lots of lemon, garlic, finely diced peppers. Delicious for soaking up with bread--the four big shrimp were fine, but this would probably be nicer with little scampi-type shrimp.
Patatas bravas: very nicely crisp and greaseless fried cubes, dusted with spicy paprika and drizzled with aoili. As good a version as I have had in NYC.
Sardines, fried, on sauteed onions and peppers with olives: a bit of a challenging dish due to the intense oiliness of the two large sardines, yes, fishyness...roe still inside and everything. But eaten with the olive-oil-soaked onions and peppers the flavors worked really well (if, like me, you enjoy dissecting flavorful whole fish off the bone).
Stuffed artichoke special: a nice big one topped with bread crumbs and I think ground chorizo or ham and broiled. There was a sweet/tangy reddish sauce underneath for dipping, I missed what it was...a nice dish
Solomillo special: filet mignon broiled in butter, pepper, garlic...in Spain the steak is usually cut into strips, here a small filet to cut yourself, but the flavor and preparation were pretty spot-on. Veggies on the side.
Chorizo/white bean stew: vinegary tang to this big filling portion made this really wonderful.
Orange crema catalana for dessert. Orange peel throughout the creamy custard, very sweet.
This was too much food for two people but we were excited. Can't wait to work our way through the rest of the menu.
What we drank:
How nice it is to get a decent pour of good wine for $7 to $9 (even though they would cost 2 or 3 euros in Madrid! But oh yeah, the plane fare...) There are bigger wine lists but most regions of Spain were represented, and there's a good selection by the glass. A few choice jerez and dessert wines, too.
05 Aldor verdejo--really nice Rueda
02 Monte Real Crianza--light old-style Rioja
02 Riberal Tinto Roble--rich-style version of tempranillo from Ribera del Duero
04 Dominio de Tares Albares Mencia--the "Spanish wine region of 2006", Bierzo, earthy and fruity with some spice, fun
04 Pago del Vicario Penta--great stuff from Castilla! Five grapes combine for a rich, smoky, herbal, fruity wine. They had several wines from this producer, which was started in 2000 and is an example of the exciting stuff going on in Spanish wine. I have got to try the petit verdot rosado...
03 Olivares Dulce Monastrell--super delicious and unique sweet wine from Jumilla. The Monastrell/Mourvedre grape is spicy and earthy--this was like a ruby port with attitude--recommended by our waitress who was rightly enthusiastic about it. (yow what a huge glass they poured us! a steal...)
I agree that the food is great at Las Ramblas, including the boquerones and calamar in su tinta which may be a special, can't recall; but have had a very different experience with the room (ear-splittingly loud music, even in empty afternoon) and service (personal rather than professional--hanging about drinking and chatting with some tables, neglecting others). I haven't been back in maybe six months on the account, and would love to know if you have noticed any change in this regard.