For years I failed to grasp the concept of tapas. My desire for an organized meal meant that food needed to be served in sequence, like a finely choreographed performance. Or mayhap in my younger days I was unable to control how many plates I ordered, so at tapas restaurants I tend to rue when the check arrived.
Whatever the cause may be, I’ve since come around my aversion of tapas with the help of Anthony Bourdain. His shows in Spain are a painful reminder of all that we’re missing here in the New World, but it also inspires us to go seek out the best alternative.
In New York City, it might very well be Boqueria.
While I’ve never been to Spain, can cannot describe first hand how Spaniards eat, the Travel Channel seem to portray them as a relaxed, festive bunch that frequently stops by restaurants for a few plates and a glass of wine. Good, because that pretty much describes my visit as I scrolled in on a not particularly exciting afternoon. Listen carefully on the streets of Soho, and you just might catch a few European accents, if you’re looking for the immersive experience.
Once seated, you’re presented with a wooden board menu, and a piece of paper with today’s specials. Like all tapas restaurants, piece together a meal of your liking, but do keep in mind prices do add up quickly.
We started our meal with some cured meat, served on a miniature bamboo chopping board. While Boqueria does serve the fabled Jamon Iberico, my pedestrian taste for cured ham was very much satisfied with Sarrano.
Then came the staple of Spanish tapas, a plate of blistered peppers topped with a sprinkling of sea salt. In Spain one would expect this dish to be made with Guernica or Padrón peppers, though in New York we seem to have accepted the Shishito pepper as a viable substitute. Blistered peppers are such a simple, flavorful crowd pleaser that can’t go wrong. Until you bite into a spicy one (for Shishito, roughly 1 in 10 pack serious heat). So I urge you to take a quick bite of each pepper before you pop it in its entirety and chew. There were two fiery surprises in my plate, they were not pleasant.
After I was finally able to calm my taste buds with water and white wine, which was a good 10 minutes later, came the 4 seafood courses. Gambas al Ajillo, or simply garlic shrimp, was tasty and easily popped, an ideal bar food. While the flavors were solid, it paled in comparison to the Casa Mono version of this Spanish mainstay.
Next came the squid salad, served with lots of frisée and flavored with slightly charred scallions. The seasoning was a bit too sweet for my taste, but overall still a good salad.
The razor clams, marked on the paper “specials” menu for the day was excellent. The green pesto was fragrant, and complimented the taste of the seafood perfectly. I’m not one who usually orders razor clams, and admittedly the clams could look slightly disturbing for some, but this is a must try if you find it on the menu when you visit.
Finally, I wanted to see how well the chefs execute something simple, something every New Yorker are somewhat familiar with: scallops. The scallops, admittedly not very impressive in terms of physical size, was nicely colored and paired wonderfully with cured meats and beans. It was quite a satisfying way to end the meal.
Boqueria is one of the more authentic tapas experiences in New York, but the more you fall in love with these experiences, the more you crave to seek the real deal across the pond. However, perhaps it’s not such a bad thing to be the next best thing.
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53 W 19th St
New York, NY 10011