As much as I like to explore new dining frontiers, I’m really a creature of habit: There’s a core group of restaurants that I go to over and over again, but, for fear of misrepresenting my favorites, I’ve avoided writing about all but a few of them. It’s so much easier to discuss the things you’re not as attached to emotionally, isn’t it?
When Jill and I came back from our first-ever trip together, our love affair with all things Spanish (well, minus the racism) was firmly in place. It wasn’t easy to feed my newly minted tapas addiction in Virginia, where I found myself after Spain, or in Romania, where I spent a few months before moving to New York, so I went a little nuts once I got to this city. Although the sheer volume of options could’ve been overwhelming, I was determined to work my way through as many tapas joints as I could manage. Many of them didn’t measure up to what I’d had in Europe and were easy to cross off the list, but the moment I discovered Tía Pol, the search ground to a sudden halt.
This was the food we had in Spain. No. This was the food we wish we’d had in Spain.
Above, the best version of croquetas de jamón you could possibly want, all creamy bechamel and bite-size nuggets of ham, nestled in a shatteringly crispy shell. I guarantee that if you eat pork, you’ll be tempted to get a second round. Start with one helping, though, and order the garbanzo fritos as well.
Once you try these deep-fried chickpeas, dusted with smoky paprika, sprinkled with sea salt, and served piping-hot, you’ll never be satisfied with beer nuts again. (Or so I’d imagine. I’ve never actually had beer nuts, but I can’t imagine any scenario in which they would top this.)
Next, something from the”frios” side of the menu. Any number of items would’ve worked: the piquillos peppers, stuffed with ensaladilla rusa and topped with tuna; the white asparagus with mayonnaise and caviar; the deviled eggs, the tortilla española …all stellar, can’t-lose choices, but on this particular evening, my friends and I went with another personal favorite—the montadito de crema de habitas con beyos, or fava bean purée with grated beyos cheese on toasted bread. It’s a more than generous helping of the purée, hummus-like in consistency, topped with the perfect amount of just-salty-enough cheese, and drizzled with earthy olive oil, all on a crusty baguette—the ideal mix of flavors and textures. And vegetarian, too!
Our other serving of vegetables came courtesy of one of that day’s specials, a salad of butternut squash and thinly shaved cheese. I’m not a huge fan of squash, in general, but this preparation was addictive, especially in concert with the creamy, bloomy cheese.
It was a good thing we got our nutrients in early, because the rest of the meal involved lots of carbs, lots of sauce, and lots of protein (plus a tiny bit of sugar at the end). The navajas y almejas (razor clams and cockles) are served in an insanely tasty sauce of wine, garlic and olive oil; though the seafood is expertly cooked and exploding with flavor, it’s almost beside the point. Ask for extra bread for the sauce, or for a spoon—you’ll want one or the other, or maybe both. One caveat: The picture above is not representative of the serving size; for a few minutes, photography completely slipped my mind, and before I knew it, I’d eaten a third of the dish. It’s just that good.
Our final savory choice was the plate of pinchos morunos: skewers of cumin- and smoked-paprika–tinged lamb, impaled upon hunks of baguette that soak up the wayward rivulets of liquid that inevitably leak out of the tender, juicy meat. Don’t be fooled by this dish’s seeming simplicity: These ae shish kebabs of the highest order.
As for dessert, I’m usually more than satisfied with an order of the chorizo con chocolate, yet another piece of toast, spread, in this case, with a layer of bittersweet chocolate and crowned with a thin slice of cured chorizo. Not too sweet, not too salty, just the right end to the meal. But on this occasion, a real dessert was in order (it’d been that kind of a week). We chose the torta de santiago, a Spanish almond cake with dulce de leche and turron ice cream, and we were not disappointed. The ice cream’s subtlety allowed the almond in the cake to really shine; three of us made short work of this one.
I’ve deluded myself, as time passes, into believing that I truly remember those meals from our inaugural journey, but to be honest, the taste of Tía Pol’s menu has subverted many of those memories. This year is the tenth anniversary of our travel partnership, which, in the name of fair reportage, calls for a return trip. Now accepting contributions to the cause: please inquire within.
205 Tenth Avenue
New York, NY