Tapas. Little plates. Many, many little plates. A little of this, a little of that. What better way to try everything on the menu than to go to a tapas restaurant. Such is the case with Boqueria. Boqueria, and the relatively new Boqueria Soho, are owned and run by Yann de Rochefort (formerly of Suba) and Chef Seamus Mullen. Those of you who love and follow The Next Iron Chef on the Food Network are familiar with Chef Seamus Mullen.
Fork and Spoon originally intended to try the Boqueria on West 19th Street. As we suffer from the luck of the cutlery, Boqueria on West 19th Street was closed! They were having their floors redone! We were lucky cutlery this time. Spoon was knocking around in the neighborhood before we were to meet and saw that the restaurant was closed, so we were quickly able to switch our adventure to Boqueria on Spring Street.
What a lovely restaurant. Long, narrow, warm colors, open tapas area in the window, small-ish open kitchen with seating at a bar facing the kitchen. The dreaded high tables with leather stools and leather banquets – these aren’t as high as other places the cutlery has been, but still a hike. The only problem with the seating is how close the tables are to each other. Painfully close. It isn’t the noise, the acoustics are fantastic. As the restaurant filled, the noise level stayed within an acceptable range. The problem with how close the tables are is the ability to get in and out of the banquet. You can’t. Your table has to move all the way to the right and the table next to you has to move all the way to the left – and that’s only if that table is empty!
But enough about the tables! Yes, they have iced tea! Oddly, they don’t have hot tea. The iced tea is sort of bottomless. We had 5, and paid for 3. So it must be one free refill and then another charge. Sigh.
The food is fantastic! Absolutely fantastic.
Fork and Spoon started with Pan con Tomate – grilled bread, rubbed with tomato, garlic and olive oil. The bread was thin and crunchy grilled. They have amazing bread here – Sullivan Street bakery, natch! The tomatoes are fresh and flavorful, the tomatoes soaking into the bread, not big pieces of tomato. Scent of garlic, but not a strong garlic taste. Four nice sized triangles and one olive. One olive? Really? Now you know that you have a solid relationship with another piece of cutlery when Spoon can bite half an olive – with a pit, mind you – and hand it to Fork and say, eat this, and Fork does without thought. (Oh, stop cringing!)
Fork had experienced a miserable, stressful day and was contentedly sipping amazing blood orange sangria and leaving all the ordering to Spoon. This could have led to trouble, but everything was perfect.
The next little dish to arrive was Datiles con Beicon (sorry for the lack of picture, but photographs of dates wrapped in bacon taken by ameteurs on the fly look a little like poo and do we really need that?). Dates, stuffed with almonds and Valdeon cheese and then wrapped in bacon and then cooked somehow so the cheese is melted and the bacon crispy. Valdeon is an intense goat and cow’s milk blue cheese. Fork doesn’t like dates – well, at least not until today. It is true, bacon makes anything palatable. The date was slightly sweet. The almond lent a crunch. The blue cheese, some saltiness. The bacon, a wonderful smoky, meaty crunch. We could have has more of these, but there were so many more things to try!
Next arrived Patatas Bravas. If you try Bocqueria, order these! Totally amazing. Well seasoned, crispy potatoes. So far so great. Drizzled on top of the crispy perfect potatoes was a marvelous, creamy alioli. Not too garlicy. Just perfect. As Fork and Spoon picked a few of the potatoes from the top, we noticed a red sauce under the potatoes. Just when we thought the potatoes were perfect, along came the salsa brava. Very smokey from the paprika, slightly tomatoey, a little kick to it, and so perfectly matched with the spicey potatoes and alioli. These were quickly, done, done and done!
And along then came Pintxos Morunos. Seared lamb kebabs marinated in cumin and lemon. Perfectly grilled and served atop a thick slice of toasted bread. On top of the skewers were thin slices of onion and a great salsa verde. Tender, juicy lamb, a background hint of lemon and cumin. The salsa verde had the slightest little bite of heat to it. Just when we thought it couldn’t get better, it did. And it still gets better from here.
One of the specials the night of our adventure was Arroz con Setas – Rice with Mushrooms. Crispy Bomba rice, very creamy, slightly crispy, with porcini mushrooms. Bomba rice is what they usually use for Paella. It absorbs three times its volume in broth. That has to be what adds the creaminess to this dish. The porcini lends a certain earthiness to the rice, and the Tetilla cheese a little tang and a slight – not unpleasant in any way – bitterness. Across the top of the rice were thin slices of oyster mushrooms that had been marinated in citrus. The marinated oyster mushrooms added brightness to the dish. This was one of those dishes that you just can’t stop eating even though you are just so full. There were just so many flavors jumping around in your mouth.
The other special Fork and Spoon had to try was Chorizo y Garbanzo. The chorizo at Boqueria is made in house. It has a wonderful flavor to it with just a bit of heat. The sliced choriso was served over garbanzo beans, a wonderful broth and rainbow chard that had been braised. The broth was incredible. Again, smokey, earthy and the happy garbanzo beans swimming in it absorbed its flavor.
Our last dish was Croquetas Cremosas. The night Fork and Spoon were there, the combination of croquetas was chicken and mushroom. Three of each. The chicken sat atop a mojo picon sauce – very garlicy, slightly smokey from the paprika. The mushroom croquetas sat in a truffle aioli that was seriously good. Each golf ball sized croqueta perfectly fried and crisp on the outside. Very tender, but crispy shell. And that’s where our love affair with this dish ended. It took one bite of each croqueta for Spoon and Fork to look at each other, but the croqueta down, and sadly shake our heads. The mushroom one was like biting into cream of mushroom soup and the chicken like – sorry, Seamus – chicken ala king. The interesting thing, though, about the croquetas is trying to figure out how they make them. It’s crispy shell and then cream-o-mushroom soup. Curious cutlery would like to know…
Too full! Too full! Make it stop. Yes, we have too muh, we need to bring some home. Our lovely waitress Sarah asked – should I bring you the check? Check? You mean without DESSERT? Absolutely not!
And there was absolutely only one choice. Fork and Spoon knew this coming into Boqueria. Churros con Chocolate! Churros are a traditional Spanish dessert of fried dough. Many of you may have tried churros at an amusement park. Fork’s local Costco even sell them. Well, believe me, this ain’t your normal every day churro! Light and airy, crispy, rolled in cinnamon and sugar. Makes your tines tingle. Served on the side was a little pot of chocolate. It wasn’t your usual little pot of melted chocolate. This is thick Spanish hot chocolate. Not sweet, not bitter. Just perfect. Churros con Chocolate is just that perfect little somethin’ somethin’ sweet after a rich meal.
Now, here’s a turn of events for you. Boqueria, while they have iced tea, does not serve hot tea. Huh? Doesn’t the iced tea have to come from somewhere? It certainly wasn’t a mix. It was unsweetened. Tea bags or loose tea had to be involved.
All in all this place is fabulous. Great service – especially our Sarah. Quick. Beautifully plated. Try to get seated so you don’t have a table on either side or make your dining companion sit on the banquette, getting out from between the tiny tables is murder!
Everything is so fresh. Most things prepared right as you watch. The cold tapas is in the front window. The kitchen open for all diners to see. With that kind of scrutiny, you know the ingredients have to be top notch, the kitchen and tapas bar immaculate and there is really something great about watching your food prepared.
OH! And we had a treat this visit! We saw Seamus Mullen in the dining room – twice! He wasn’t cooking, but checking on the kitchen. Left, came back with dry cleaning.