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Boqueria -- mini-review...NYC tapas places are simply never very good

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  • Simon Dec 21, 2008 06:09 PM
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Another NYC tapas disappointment

i went there tonight for a solo snack to check Boqueria out for possible future outings...i didn't hate it, and both dishes i had were reasonably tasty, but i doubt i'll return...

-- i found the restaurant so bright that it was off-putting...and the seating and atmosphere is the opposite of cozy...all hard edges and open seats...it's simply not a comfortable place to eat...

-- the staff's tacky shirts make it seem like a TGIF's...and while the service at the table was fine, i found the staff a bit on the unprofessional side (gabbing loudly w/ each other about various mixups that happened on other nights, generally acting like goofballs: reminded me of a typical LA restaurant that way)

-- both glasses of wine i had: a Cabernet Franc and a Tempranillo were tasty...it's a nice, easy-drinking list...

-- the lamb skewers...the lamb was tender and medium rare, but because of the way it was bunched on the skewers, some of the cubes were totally raw on the sides: unhealthy...i'm happy to eat the bluest of rare lamb, but you need to at least give all the surface area a whiff of a sear...i sent them back and they nicely brought me a totally new order that was more or less fine...

-- baby squid a la plancha...very tender and tasty...two quibbles: a bit of grit/sand (couldn't tell if it was in the squid or the arugula) and the drizzles of mayonnaise were unnecessary/icky (i noticed drizzles of mayo on other dishes at other tables too)...

Overall, there is some good food here (the various hams i saw looked yummy), but i'll probably never return mainly because it's too bright and uncomfy a setting to eat tapas, and the food wasn't enticing enough to compensate...just personal preference, but i think tapas places should be comfy...

Mini-rant: why can't NYC have even one tapas place that's even half as good as Harvest Vine in Seattle?...i haven't been to Tia Pol, but every other tapas place i've been to in NYC is mediocre/half-decent at best...

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  1. p.s. i am talking about the Soho branch on Spring St.

    1. I haven't been to Boqueria, but I think Mercat, Tia Pol & its sister restaurant El Quinto Pino are all very good. The first is loud & the second two are pretty cramped, so judging from your opinion of the atmosphere at Boqueria, you might not like them either. Then again, tapas bars in Madrid can also be quite loud & bright, in my experience.

      5 Replies
      1. re: small h

        cramped and loud can be okay...bright and uncomfy is not...never been to Madrid, but some of the ones in Barcelona were nicely/dimly lit and cozy...

        i'll try Tia Pol and the others eventually...

        1. re: Simon

          In general, in Spain, you would be lucky to get any kind of seat at a tapas bar! I cannot remember any Spanish tapas place that I would regard as "comfy." I've eaten only at the Boqueria on 19th Street and while I thought the food was okay,I've never had a desire to return. For food alone, Casa Mono would be my choice, even though it is not a tapas bar.

          1. re: Simon

            I've only been to the other Boqueria, but if you go back, do try the mushroom croquetas - I thought they were excellent.

            1. re: Simon

              I lived in Barcelona for 4 years and traveled many times to Madrid. The best tapas places are always packed, generally with a few stools which you may get if you're lucky or arrive very early and the lighting is usually flourescent! They aren't fancy or upscale or trying to fit some image like NY restaurants. Real Spanish tapas haven't seemed to make their way to NY - I must assume it's because Americans simply don't eat how the Spanish do and therefore traditional Spanish tapas aren't popular here. I've been to many of the tapas places and find them to be decent but not traditional (I've yet to see patatas bravas even resemble those of any tapas bar in Spain). I've been meaning to try Tia Pol and based on everyone's reviews, it sounds like I'm missing out.

              1. re: Barcelonian

                I spent a little time in Barcelona myself and Tia Pol is the closest to "authentic" tapas I've had in the city. The experience is a tad different being that you can't jump from place to place and waits can get a bit long, but from a food standpoint they seem to have it down. It may be pre-mature of me to say, but I think Txikito has a bright future as well, Alex Raij's new spot (she was the former chef at Tia Pol which to this day serves her menu).

          2. yes i find it amazing that manhattan does not have a decent tapas bar the concept is very simple as i understand a little interesting nibble with a drink, yet it has not yet arrive in manhattan, in my experience it either over priced or diivered in an atmospher with tooooo much attitude think mono or the one next door

            1. The best tapas bars in Spain that i've been to are bright, crowded and noisy, where everybody pretty much stands-up. Also, you'll notice that the clothing worn by the servers there can be worse than tacky.

              In terms of your rmini-rant, while they may never approach the quality of those in Spain, and I've not been ot Harvest Vine, but I think that Tia Pol and Boqueria provides some of the better tapas than anywhere else that I've been to in the country. Of course, I am not including the delicious ones at Casa Mono, as their servings are not tapas-size.

              Just like another poster here responmded, the seats at Tia Pol are not any better than those at Boqueria.

              3 Replies
              1. re: RCC

                I'm confused. The title of your post is "NYC tapas places are simply never very good" yet you seem ot have somewhat enjoyed both of your dishes, not to mention that you didn't even try about 95% of their menu. NYC is a city full of small restaurants which need to do their best to pay their rent, and if that means being a bit more crowded, so be it. I've been here half a dozen times with different groups of friends and never had a single complaint from anyone. If you want a "comfortable" seat, go to Stanton Social, but prepare to overpay for fusion, untraditional tapas. Check out La Nacional on 14th between 7th and 8th aves, I promise it will be quiet and not cramped, so long as you don't go during a soccer game. You should also check into the 19th street location of Boqueria, which is far from bright. It may get noisy and cramped, but definitely not bright.

                1. re: fishermb

                  there are plenty of good tapas spots in the city, the title of the post is extremely misleading and inaccurate IMO. Tia Pol, Boqueria, Casa Mono, Txikito even Oliva and Alta, all good to excellent...

                  1. re: fishermb

                    i like La Nacional and have been several times, but what i like there is the excellent paella...i think their tapas are only so-so...

                    i don't mind if a place is crowded -- crowded can be cozy and fun...but i do mind if it's too bright...it was more the general layout and vibe of the restaurant which i didn't care for...it's not really suited to the kind of bar/standing-up tapas places in Spain (the bar area is in the entry-way so it's not a good place to stand and eat and drink) and the rest of the room is a hard-edged bright dining room (so nor is it suited to a comfy sitting-down evening)...i have no ax to grind, just personal preference...

                    i need to try Tia Pol, and the menu at Mercat also looked interesting...

                2. When my husband and I used to eat at Harvest Vine, we would complain it was never as good as Tia Pol :).

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: AimeeD

                    finally went to Tia Pol last night...it was a great experience...definitely better in every way than any other tapas place i'd been to in NYC...

                    We had:

                    -- fried garbanzo beans...addictive and yummy

                    -- shishito peppers...very good...

                    -- deviled eggs: nice pimento flavor, not too much mayo...best deviled eggs i've had in a while...

                    -- "crispy marinated fish"...this was actually 3 small pieces of fried mako shark...also delicious...

                    -- the 29 dollar suckling pig special...awesome and worth every penny...

                    -- five glasses of wine (3 reds and 2 whites)...

                    Total bill was a little over a 100 dollars plus tip...perfectly fine for such a varied and tasty meal meal for two...

                    I also liked the pleasing dim lighting and brick walls...and the service was outstanding...our waiter knew the menu perfectly, offered great suggestions, and staggered our dishes w/ timing that was just right...shockingly professional and nice...

                    thanks to all for urging me to put aside my past NYC tapas experiences and to try Tia Pol...

                    1. re: Simon

                      See how much better it is when you order more than 2 tapas items?

                      1. re: RCC

                        haha...even if i'd ordered only 2 at Tia Pol i would have been very happy...

                        1. re: Simon

                          I'm glad that you tried Tia Pol.

                          1. re: RCC

                            Glad to hear you had a good experience. Now I'm bummed that I passed on the suckling pig special last time I was there......

                  2. checking out the menu of harvest vine in seattle online... it does not seem to be a tapas place in the spanish tradition. my experience of those in spain was the same as other posters, often standing around a narrow bar... not fancy, just functional... and inexpensive.

                    harvest looks to average out at $14/plate with even a $20+plate... and more proper dining tables. non-traditional tapas (not even a pan con tomate or tortilla espanol offered). i'd guess casa mono might be your best bet in nyc for an equivalent, albeit smaller space.

                    plenty of dimmer lit cozier tapas in nyc, but most skewing traditional and cramped. tia pol is greater... for more basic, try xicala.

                    and give boqueria another shot... (i've only been to 19th street)... so many tasty things on the menu, t-shirted but friendly staff and all. should never leave a tapas joint having only tried 2 things!

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: thievery

                      "checking out the menu of harvest vine in seattle online... it does not seem to be a tapas place in the spanish tradition"

                      I just looked at it and I agree. I'm not even sure why they tout the restaurant as Basque?

                      1. re: RCC

                        the real menu at Harvest Vine is much larger than the online menu...it's basque and while there are lots of raciones-size dishes, they are plenty of smaller tapas options too...

                    2. Okay, I'm married to a charnega from Barcelona and have lived in Madrid and have spent months in Barcelona and Andalucia. Asking for an authentic tapas experience is just not gonna happen here in NYC or anywhere else outside of Spain. The closest you could come in the NY area would be to go on a "la marcha" around the Ironbound with some friends and have a drink with an appetizer or two in a half dozen different places regardless of them being Spanish/Portuguese or Brazilian. Yes, now you're having "tapas".

                      1. Tio Pol is overrated as is its sister restaurant,, the uni sandwich was interesting though

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: foodwhisperer

                          El Nacional as well, they don't even care about the bread. Just lazy all around. Listen, your rent is your problem, not mine.