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Sep 8, 2009 11:58 AM

El Porron: 1st Ave betw. 61st and 62nd. General review

Chowhounders - my first review. Forgive me, but I hate to write extensively so better to ask me what I don't address for you!

Went this past Friday evening (Labor day weekend), early, 6:00pm. So needless to say it was the "early bird special" type of crowd BUT I was surprised how many tables were taken, about half the restaurant, given the holiday weekend. A couple, next to us, were already on a first name basis with the staff, having been about 5 times already. I was hoping this was a good sign.

Decor is modern, not too uptight and stuffy. Brown hues which were inviting, the type of place you walk by and you stop to read the menu because the decor draws you in. A point to note, it would be a great spot for solo diners as there is a bar in the middle of the place designed for eating, with high backed stools and a server/bartender who stays behind the counter. I wouldn't exactly call it a bar area though. Only about 4 seats. I will have to revisit to get my take on whether it could be a spot to "grab a drink."

I know this sounds nit-picky but the physical wine list is a bit strange. Not the wines on it but it's presentation. Basically it looks like it just came off the printer and they put it in a plastic sleeve. Very flimsy. Whites are on one page and reds one another. Just seems strange juggling 2 pieces of flimsy, paper. Hopefully this is just part of the growing pains.

Was it a mind blowing experience like EMP or Babbo? No. Was it better than Boqueria? No. I'd compare it to Las Ramblas. BUT it does serve a purpose in an area on the UES (east 60's) that is frankly lacking in decent places to go and any sort of diversity in terms of cuisine. Forget even the east 60's, I don't even think there is a Spanish Tapas place anywhere uptown. Will I return? Yes. Why? It was good (not great), it's local and it's not Italian which dominates the UES. The portions were pretty big for the price points and the atmosphere was great.

On to the important stuff:
There is an entree section of the menu. We skipped it entirely so I can't comment on them.

We ordered a bunch of tapas:
Manchego with quince paste
Mushrooms in garlic
Chicken croquettes
Crispy sweetbreads
Tortilla with chorizo
Grilled octopus
Shrimp a la plancha (head on)
Churros with chocolate dipping sauce

The manchego was just that. Either you are craving it or you are not. It's not like they made it in the kitchen. Only comment on that dish is the bread served with it, portions like match sticks. Not enough bread to even eat with the cheese. The mushrooms in garlic were my least favorite. Oyster, crimini and shiitakes cooked down too much so that it was basically like mushroom mush. Chicken croquettes were good. Nice and crunchy on the outside and moist on the inside. Crispy sweetbreads also pretty good. I guess I could comment that they were over cooked, but the dish does read "crispy" and I enjoyed them. I have sweetbreads often when I eat out and this was an interesting preparation. I would recommend them for someone who has always wanted to try sweetbreads like "sweetbread training wheels." The crispiness of the dish almost disguises that it's organ meat. Maybe a bad thing for the sweetbread purist but it wasn't a bad dish. The tortilla was fabulous, just the right amount of egg and potato. Not too light but not too heavy. The best 2 dishes were the octopus and the shrimp. The octopus was so tender you could have cut it with a fork. And the star of the night, the shrimp. Head on, which I love, to suck out the brains. Perfectly seasoned. Just enough saltiness and acidity. I would go back for that dish alone. And finally, churros for dessert . Not on the regular menu but the special for the night. They were light and airy, but yet crisy at the same time. Delicious.

Hope this was somewhat informative. Would love to hear other comments. Was told by the "regulars" next to us the squid is very good. Will try that next time!

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    1. re: jinglejangle

      We didn't have any wine/sangria and for the 7 tapas and dessert it was $82. So on average about $10 each. I thought for the amount of food, it was reasonably priced. Like the shrimp, there were about 9-10 of them. And we didn't even finish the octopus there was so much of it. The tortilla also was a decent sized portion.

    2. I went with 4 friends on Saturday night and feel about the same way that you do. It's decent for the neighborhood but nothing amazing. However, we did feel it was expensive for the portion sizes, even given the neighborhood.

      Skip the paella, not crusty and not well flavored, plenty of pieces of protein whether it be chicken, fish, chorizo or seafood, though.

      They also actually can serve your wine in a porron if you would like.

      1. As much as i hate to say it, this place isnt really that great. Every tapas on the menu is pretty much floating in the same garlic sauce. They claim the artichokes are fresh, but they are straight out of a can from the gristedes down the block. the shrimp was bland and just about every other dish was so salty i walked out of there with sausage fingers.

        1. The tapas are not great. Some are good, other not. The place itself is nice though. I think that after a few visits to sort out the the good from the bad, you can have a decent meal there, sticking to the good.

          1 Reply
          1. re: sushiman

            dont get the clams (they were especially salty; but the sauce they were marinating in was the best out of everything we ordered).. chicken croquettes were NOT memorable...I did like the garlic chicken.
            Oh and the place itself is cute, but the acoustics are awful. you can hear everyone's conversation. so loud.

          2. Went with some friends who had been there 4 times already. Good for UES as everyone here says but not general the seafood tapas are best...octopus, shrimp, etc. I found the Churros to be greasy, and better ones can be found on the 14th Street L train station. With two bottles of wine and a multitude of tapas, I think the bill was $250....I would go back only because as others have said, it brings some variety to this otherwise bland stretch of new york

            El Porron
            1123 1st Ave, New York, NY 10065