Da Rosa Cantine – Spanish Tapas in the City of Light

Foodie cannot live on foie gras and steak tartare alone.

Sometimes, she needs a little fatty fat fat cheese to round things out.

If you feel the need for a few raw vegetables in your life, head to Da Rosa Cantine.

end of trip 041

This Spanish tapas restaurant has a menu the length of the phone book (do they even HAVE phone books anymore?) and a laid back atmosphere. It is chic but not insanely pricey, by Parisian standards, and the service is downright friendly!

end of trip 040 Part bordello, part cafe, this is somewhere that I imagine fashion models coming to sip champagne and eat air. But that’s their mistakes…because the food is wonderful.  end of trip 042 Foie Gras pate de campagne

If you should happen to order this by mistake and think that it looks like cat food, just shut up and try a bite. You will be surprised  at how well the delicate taste of the foie and the more earthy taste of the pork liver meld;. The hints of sage and sharp black pepper bring out the woodsy, robust flavor. Spread on toast with an incendiary green pickled pepper, it has a coarse texture and a fatty, meaty mouth feel. Yes, okay, it does SLIGHLTY resemble the texture of cat food, but it doesn’t’ taste like that at all. end of trip 043 Sardines

These were the most meh of the appetizers ordered. Not for the faint of heart, these come with the guts intact. They don’t taste bad, but they do mean that the sardines have a slightly mineral-y, verging on muddy taste. Wait that sounded bad. What I meant was that the muddy taste is easily covered up by a heavy dose of lemon juice and a bit of the mustard-infused butter. end of trip 044 Pan con tomate

Yes yuh yes yes yes. Yes. Oh yes.

Peeled tomatoes chopped finely and served on garlic rubbed toast with a leaf of basil so sweet it might as well be soaked in sugar. This is filling but not heavy and it’s a very welcome dose of veggies after a week of organ meat.  Literally awesome.

end of trip 045 This side salad is also pretty awesome. It comes with most dishes and it’s just so good. Crisp romaine hearts drenched in a balsamic vinaigrette that was so acidic that it cut straight through all of the meat and olive oil of the other courses. It was the perfect accompaniment for… end of trip 046 Burrata

The Kate Middleton of cheeses – beautiful, humble, and insanely rich. This is just fabulous – a taut, pleasantly firm skin surrounding creamy, thick, rich cream. It’s drizzled with a fruity olive oil and served with pepper, salt, and a few juicy kalamata olives. Pair some of this soft, milky cheese with a piece of toast and a salty olive and wow…it’s just perfection.

Da Rosa is highly recommended. The service is excellent, extremely for Paris, the prices are fair, and the food is delicious. I would love to go back and even try a few more dishes!

Because if one thing can tear me away from steak tartare…it’s a big ole hunk of burrata.

And if one restaurant can get me to forsake escargot and

Cafe Ronda’s Tapas Fit the Bill

My tapas quest continues, and although I haven’t found a true slice of Spain north of 14th Street, I have finally found a place that offers food that quells my need for croquetas and patatas bravas.

Cafe Ronda is a long, candlelit restaurant. It is casual but nice enough for a dinner with a loved one or a glass of sherry at the small bar. The menu features dishes like paella and skirt steak, but the main reason to come here is the extensive tapas menu.

Mushroom croquetas

Usually ham croquetas are the way to go, but here the ham is stiff and too salty – go for the mushroom croquetas. They are thickly breadcrumbed on the outside  and the inside is a buttery mash of potatoes  meaty mushrooms, and a hint of garlic.  The garlic is echoed in the extremely tasty aioli – an ideal counterpart to these rich bites.

Spicy chicken empanadas

In a word, fabulous. The dough is flaky and thick, but not at all sodden or heavy. It is an excellent vehicle for the soft chicken, braised with peppers, garlic, and spices until it is fragrant and tender to the point of falling apart. The chimichurri served alongside is a game-changer.  It is like a Latin American pesto, filled with fruity olive oil, spicy garlic, and fragrant cilantro and parsley. It is tasty on the empanadas, on the bread, on a spoon…

Basically, I’m now obsessed with it.

Patatas Bravas

This is just drunk food masquerading as fancy Spanish cuisine. Chunks of fried potatoes, crispy and salty with creamy insides, are drizzled in that garlicky aioli and served so hot that they will burn the roof of your mouth if you aren’t careful  Maybe they are just fries with mayonnaise, but they are delicious fries with mayonnaise. This dish really can’t be beat and is not to be missed.

Filet mignon skewers

This plate isn’t cheap but the quality is outstanding.  The steak is incredibly tender, served a juicy medium are with a nicely charred exterior. The piquillo peppers served alongside are positively velvety and quite smoky. No question about it, this is high quality beef that is served as tapas but is high enough quality to serve as a full steak. It is a wonderful way to round out a starch heavy meal.

Milk caramel crepes with ice cream

Any time that you see dulce de leche on a Spanish menu, you order it. That’s because ducle de leche is to caramel as Kate Middleton is to Lindsay Lohan – one FAR outshines the other. This dessert does not disappoint – the crepes are perhaps not as crisp and light as they should be, but the dulce de leche is nothing short of perfect. Thick enough to coat the back of your spoon with a deep, buttery taste that is incredibly sweet without being cloying. It’s sweet and creamy, and makes the ice cream seem like light health food.

Cafe Ronda is a great neighborhood spot. Though the staff can be a bit pushy with the drink menu, it’s nothing that takes away from the meal. The prices are very fair, the food is quite good, and they have all the Spanish staples to fulfill your tapas cravings.

Cafe Ronda on Urbanspoon

Despana – a Lunchtime Trip to Spain

In the heart of Soho, amidst trendy shops and people who treat yoga studios like church, is Despana.

This shop is decidedly Spanish, meaning that it is devoted to all things ham, wine, and bread.

Not exactly yoga-riffic, but it’s so delightful that the neighborhood has kept it around.

The shelves are filled with imported olives, tomatoes, pickles, and even whole pheasants roasted with truffles.

The deli cases are loaded with every kind of pork product known to man, including the remarkably fatty, incredibly expensive, and totally sublime Iberico ham.


They also have lots of samples out,  and if you have even half a brain…you will try them.
Like this chorizo, which is peppery, robustly flavored with paprika, and soft without being greasy. I may have eaten more than my fair share of this.

These canned olives are so juicy and fruity that it’s hard to believe that they aren’t home cured.

These baby eels…may have been tasty. I don’t know because I wimped out and didn’t try them.

I know I should have but…they look kinda like snot strings, right?

The real treat to this shop is in the back, where you can order form a long menu of tasty sandwiches, hot food, and Spanish snacks.

Eat them at long communal tables, where the flatware is plastic, but the sherry vinegar is thick and syrupy and the olive oil is spicy and fragrant.

 Though the dishes in the display case change daily, here are some favorites:

Beans with Iberco ham and onions.

Absolutely fresh, tasting grassy and of the earth. The ham is salty and meaty, providing depth and punch. The onions are caramelized and sweet, and the dish cries out only for olive oil to echo the ham’s fattiness and bring out the lusher side of the rather spare beans. This gets better as you eat it.

That’s what she said.

Sauteed Summer Vegetables

So simple and so tasty. Peppers, zucchini, tomatoes, olive oil…how does this  taste so much like summer when the temperature outside is in the 20s? The only answer can be that they have an incredible source that makes the peppers taste sweet and the zucchini tender and juicy even through the depth of winter. There are no overt spices, no big zip of flavor. It is just a dish that comes together beautifully. Mop up the dish with some of the excellent, never ending supply of freshly baked bread that you receive with your order.

Blood sausage with tomatoes

Don’t let the name deter you. This is now one of my favorite sausage dishes in NYC. The sausage is tender and porky and tastes really rich and iron-y (thanks, blood!) It is soft but not mushy, rich but not greasy, and an ideal counterpart to the sweet and tart tomatoes cooked with it. If you like spaghetti with pork ragu, you will love this.

 And if you don’t like spaghetti with pork ragu…what do you do to feel joy?

Despana is a true find. The wine shop attached to the food store has a wonderful selection of Spanish wines and all the goods are fairly priced in both shops. The food is also delicious and well priced, and – best of all – it’s a vacation to Spain with the yoga studio across the street still in sight.

You go do some downward facing dog. As for me, I’ll take another slice of that chorizo, please

Despana Specialty Foods & Cafe on Urbanspoon

Casa Pomona – Tasty Tapas on the UWS

Casa Pomona is a relatively new restaurant on the Upper West Side that specializes in tapas.

When I was invited there for a press meal, I was curious to see if authentic Spanish food had finally found its way uptown.

The restaurant is large and spacious, with a minimalist, rustic decor and a fun, throbbing vibe. It’s casual but not divey, and has a bar that is perfect for a glass of wine and a cheese plate.


This Spanish dish of eggs and potatoes is a traditional tapas food and it is done well here. A crispy, browned crust cuts open to reveal thin potato slices layered with softly scrambled eggs. The dish is creamy and fluffy, interspersed with garlic and parsley. This is as comforting as hash browns and eggs in the morning, but has those pungent flavorings that really take it all the way to Spain  Ask for some of the restaurant’s aioli with it and you will add another layer of smooth, garlicky goodness.

Mussels en Escabeche

These marinated mussels are by far the best seafood dish on the menu. They are well cooked, plump and sweet. Served cold and dressed with dices of cucumber and tomato in a vinegary dressing, they manage to be fresh and slightly salty without being dried out. These are excellent for anyone who likes mussels or doesn’t like garlic – this is one of the few dishes in the restaurant that doesn’t include a huge amount of garlic.


Croquetas with salt cod and potatoes

These are good, if not revelatory. They are served hot and properly crispy, with a creamy filling that is quite pronounced in its cod flavor – not a turnoff for me, but not the choice for people who are funny about fish.

On a related note, the fish options here are the weakest ones. Rubbery octopus and a very mushy, iodine-y and overly saffron-ed risotto disappointed at a meal that otherwise was extremely tasty. Stick to land and air based tapas here and you will be far more satisfied.

Gazpacho blanco

A major hit. The gazpacho here consists of almonds, bread, olive oil, grapes, vegetables, and a TON of garlic. The result is a cold soup that is crisp, rich, and garlicky. It is topped with a smooth olive oil that rounds out the sharp garlic’s edges and brings out the sweetness of the grapes. If you like garlic, this is a MUST GET. I am still dreaming of it.


Oxtail stuffed meatballs. What else can I say that will make those sound even better than they already do? A substantial meatball that seems to have pork in the mix breaks open to reveal almost jammy oxtail that is sweet, savory, and as close to meat jam as one gets. The meatballs are served in a deep, spicy sauce that has the taste of long roasted tomatoes that have turned sweet and almost meaty themselves. Use the crisply fried potato chips to scoop up the rest of the sauce. I know I did.

Patatas Bravas

Huge chunks of fried potatoes served with spicy tomato sauce and creamy aioli. Yeah, that’s what I thought, too: freakin awesome. Crispy, creamy, salty, spicy…all those things at once.

Grilled grass fed hangar steak with sauteed mushrooms, swiss chard, and onion marmalade

A good, if not great, steak. It is tasty, but as so much grass fed beef is, a little tough and lacking the full flavored iron-y beefiness that grain fed beef has. The mushrooms and chard cooked a la plancha are awesome – meaty, substantial, and fulfilling in a way that usually only meat is. The sweet and sour onion marmalade is also excellent. If you like grass fed beef, this might be right up your alley.

All in all, Casa Pomona offers a really tasty meal. I hope that they get a different seafood provider and figure out the paella, because most of the tapas were absolutely delicious. The gazpacho, meatballs, and patatas bravas were especially memorable. Stick to the meaty tapas and a glass of cava, and you will be extremely pleased. Spain might not quite be at the UWS yet, but it has at least gotten a whole lot closer.

*Disclaimer: This was a press meal. I was not required to write about my experiences, and the opinions are my own and unbiased. 

Barraca – Barockin Tapas in the West Village

Let’s get down to brass tacks – if you like tapas, sangria, and feeling like you are part of the cool crowd, get yourself to Barraca.

Barraca is a new West Village tapas restaurant by chef Jesus Nunez. The night that we were there, the NYC chef was actually walking around the restaurant between cooking in the back, which is sadly the exception and not the rule in NYC. Don’t even think of coming to this small, bustling restaurant unless you have a reservation. This is the crowd at 8 pm on a Saturday night:

And when you do have a reservation that will be honored promptly  you feel unspeakably cool walking past all of the attractive people huddling in front of the hostess booth, begging for a seat.

What, like I’m the only one with that kind of schadenfreude?


These little meatballs are more flavorful than their names would have you believe. The beef is soft and spiced with garlic, onions, and oregano. They are moist, laying in a broth of roasted carrots, turnips, and other root vegetables, making a sweet and savory bed for these heavenly meatballs. They are almost like a slightly spicier version of tsimmis.

Ensalada de Foie

That’s right. I can have my salad and eat my foie, too. Tender baby greens with a tart raspberry vinaigrette, crunchy candied hazelnuts, and fresh, firm berries. Alone, this would be a well balanced, refreshing salad, but adding the tender lobes of foie bring it to w wholly new level. Though the foie lacked a charred, crispy sear, it was cooked to the proper temperature, still slightly pink and meltingly tender. This is not a perfect salad, but such a good one that I would absolutely order it again.

Patatas Bravioli with ali-oli and brava sauce

Brava sauce indeed, because BRAVA to whomever invented this dish. Crisply fried hunks of potatoes, crispy  outside and unbelievably fluffy within, they are layered with fragrant saffron and pepper heavy brava sauce and garlicky, creamy ali-oli. It is french fries gone Spanish, and it is absolutely fantastic. As a bonus, they are great for soaking up the booze in the deceptively easy to drink pitchers of sangria.

Jaretta de tenerra

The veal shank of my dreams. Sweet and savory, mingled with softly caramelized onions, the deep tannins of wine, and the slightly salty taste of Cabreles cheese. It has an almost jamlike consistency, spreadable and pleasantly fatty on the pliant charred bread served alongside. For all the world, this is the Spanish version of pulled pork and Texas toast – indulgent, meaty, and totally satisfying.

Lechuga a la Brasa

We ordered this braised lettuce mostly as a lark. After all, who the heck eats braised LETTUCE? At a restaurant offering pork and foie gras nonetheless? Well, the joke was on my carnivorous friend ans myself. This is marvelous! Tender in some parts, crispy and charred at others, served with a sauce so garlicky that it would kill Dracula on the very spot. It is warm, slightly bitter, and surprisingly meaty  almost like bok choy, but with a decidedly Spanish kick. This is an absolute sleeper hit, and must be eaten to be understood.

Barraca isn’t cheap, but it isn’t priced out of its neighborhood or quality either. It is an upscale night out, great for a group of friends or a double date. It is delicious, the service is fantastic, and they actually managed to make me eat grilled lettuce.

Will wonders never cease?

Jaleo, Las Vegas

Last year, eating at e was a highlight of my trip to Las Vegas, if not my year. As I waited to get seated, I noticed the restaurant around me – Jaleo was loud, thumping, and filled with energy and delicious smells. I saw plates of delicious looking food all over the place and swore that I would come back to eat at this tapas restaurant.

It took me a year, but finally I got there.

Jaleo was just as I remembered it; pulsating with energy and filled with the scents of garlic, roasting meat,

and huge pans of paella.

The atmosphere is hip but not snobby, filled with touches of whimsy. It would be a perfect place for a quick snack or a loud, long dinner with a group of partying friends. There is even a private room that looks perfect for a special night.

Tomatina Negroni with Campari, gin, sweet vermouth, tomato water

Anyone who likes negronis will love this. The tomato water sweetens the gin and rounds out the harsh edges of campari. The grapefruit comes through as tart rather than bitter, and the drink is refreshing and extremely food friendly. It doesn’t taste of tomato, just of sweet and fresh citrus. Highly recommended.

Patatas bravas with  spicy tomato sauce  and alioli

These aren’t the thick, traditional patatas bravas. These are thin potato chips, freshly fried and dusted with a generous helping of smoky paprika. The alioli is creamy and extremely garlicky  in a mouth-watering way. The tomato sauce provides a light, slightly spicy counterpart to the rich alioli. It tastes as if it has been infused with hot peppers, not in a fiery way but definitely in a spicy, zesty way. These are totally addictive and a must order.

Pan con tomate and Manchego

This simple dish is one of my favorites of the night. Jaleo hits the nail on the head with this totally authentic rendition of the iconic Spanish dish. Crusty bread rubbed with a clove of garlic and a cut tomato became moist but not soggy. It is soft enough to bite without shattering, but hearty enough to stand up to the tomato juice. Combined with the semi-hard cheese, it is nutty, salty, savory, and surprisingly refreshing.

Iberico Pork Burgers with piquillo peppers and alioli

That’s right. The same Iberico pork I worship in slices. Here, it is coarsely ground and loosely packed into a juicy burger. Served on a brioche bun with sweet peppers and more of that creamy alioli, it is a very meaty and almost woodsy slider.

“Bikini” Sandwiches with Ibérico ham, manchego cheese, and truffles

Heaven alone knows why this is called the bikini sandwich, because after just one of these, you can’t get into a mummu, let alone a bikini. Buttery toast cradles salty Iberico ham, gooey Manchego cheese, and aromatic truffle oil. This is one decadent grilled cheese sandwich – don’t miss it. And don’t plan to eat it all yourself – it is a bit salty and fatty, so share it to save room for more food.

Chicken Croquettes

Served in a sneaker. I have no idea why Andres does this, but I love it – it reinforces the fact that eating isn’t just refueling, it is a communal experience that should foster conversation and joy. And if these little nuggets of crispy, creamy, unmistakably chicken-y taste offer anything, it is indeed joy.

These croquettes are lighter and more complex than the garlicky, heavy ones at Porto’s. These are almost airy inside, creamy but not dense. There is the slightest hint of onion in there, perhaps some nutmeg, but most of all…its just tastes like really creamy chicken soup.

Golden fried quail eggs with ‘pisto manchego’ vegetable stew

One of our few vegetarian dishes of the night, this managed to stand out amongst all the indulgent meat and cheese courses. Perfectly brunoised vegetables like carrots, onions, and zucchini are cooked with rosemary and other aromatics until they form a tender but not mushy stew. The crowning touch is a sextet of gooey egg yolks and crispy whites

It was also served with a swipe of genuine gold dust, which no girl can ignore.

Vegetable Paella

This paella was the lone disappointment of the evening for me. A bit salty and mushy, it has none of the wonderful soccarat that I so crave. Though it is served with some more of that addictive alioli, I really can’t recommend this as a “must order” dish.

Pork and foie gras canelones with bechamel sauce

I don’t know how or why this was conceived, but I actually don’t care. This is an almost inconceivably delicious pasta dish. Thin sheets of canelloni are stuffed with sweet ground veal and earthy pate de foie gras before being blanketed in bechemel and broiled until crisp without and gooey within. It should be too rich. It should be too meaty.  It shouldn’t work…but it does. It is not too much this or too little that. It is an example of how Andres wants to do something – like, for example, deliver the world’s richest pasta dish without causing anything more than a very delayed coronary – and does it. He has an impeccable palate and has clearly trained his staff to know exactly how to execute his recipes.

His perfect, beyond compare, meaty and creamy recipes…

That’s what she said

Jaleo was delicious for all the senses. Delicious to see the pastry chefs working in the small open air dessert kitchen. Delicious to smell the dozens of small plates carried by servers that walked by our table. Delicious to feel welcomed by the enthusiastic and knowledgable staff. Delicious to hear chatter and laughter from everyone enjoying the night. And delicious to taste.

Jaleo was, in every way, worth the wait. I won’t be able to wait so long before I return.

Jaleo by José Andres (Cosmopolitan) on Urbanspoon

Fig and Olive – The Whole Shebang

What’s the last time that you ordered everything off the menu? That you just gave into all of your gustatory whims with reckless abandon and tried every damn thing that struck your fancy?
The last time I did that was at brunch at Fig and Olive.
 The casually upscale mini chain, with several NYC outposts, features a Mediterranean menu with a plethora of appetizers, main courses and tasting plates.
 The large Meatpacking branch of the restaurant was elegantly decorated, classic and inviting enough for bunch with my parents but also classy enough for drinks with a coworker.
 Bread Basket
This really should come gratis to every table. When you are at a nice restaurant, you should just get a basket of bread. I’m not asking for a slab of pate or an escargot amuse bouche, but a nicely made loaf of sourdough? That isn’t asking too much. 
 This was certainly a delicious bread basket, with crusty French bread, tangy country bread and crispy-doughy croissants among other tasty treats. The sweet whipped butter, tangy marmalade and homemade fig spread were tasty as well, but to charge for a bread basket at brunch? That was a little pretentious. I mean, they know all brunch customers are hungover. They KNOW we need carbs, stat!
 Every Crostini on the Menu
That’s right. My father and I decided to share every crostini on the menu. Soft prosciutto, tangy yogurt, nutty cheeses and a plethora of other ingredients topped these crunchy breads. Though they were all delicious – really, every SINGLE one was fresh, vibrant and light – there were a few standouts:
Crab, Avocado, Cilantro, Pine Nuts – the most fragrant, intoxicating crab I have had in recent memories. Crab is so often sweet, but here it was earthy and savory. A heavy hand with garlic and cilantro grounded the crab, making it meaty and breaking up its inherent richness. The avocado echoed the buttery texture of the crab while adding a decadent, fatty texture. It was perhaps my favorite crostini.
Crushed Tomato and Olive Oil – everything I hoped the Pan con Tomate at Socarrat Paella Bar would embody. The crisp crostini was rubbed with a garlic clove, it’s pungent taste mingling with the wheaty bread and the sweet, acidic tomatoes. The olive oil mellowed the strong flavors of the garlic and the brightness of the tomatoes – it was an entirely cohesive dish. 
Roasted Bell Pepper, Ricotta, Capers – the bell peppers were heavy with sweetness, velvety and thick. The capers added bursts of salt and the ricotta enveloped the whole dish with its mild sweetness. The strength of all the ingredients worked well, playing off each other. 
Salmon, Ricotta, Citrus, Cilantro – I would NEVER have put these ingredients together, but hey worked so well! The salmon was done ceviche style – cured with lime and lemon, so the outside was barely “cooked”, adding a slight snap to the bite outside the silky, decadently fatty fish within. The predominant tastes here are sour and fragrant, with the cilantro providing a grassy, spicy punch. The ricotta acts as a backdrop, not as greasy or rich as mayonnaise, but creamy enough to temper the citrus. This was out of this world. 
Every Single Ceviche and Tartare on the Menu
I love ceviche – fish that is “cooked” by marinating it in lime juice until the fish’s flesh is cooked on the outside and still incredibly rare within. It is Peruvian in origins, but here there is a decidedly Mediterranean flare. Tartare is just something served raw. Two of the ceviches/tartare – the salmon and the crab – made an appearance on the crostinis, and were huge hits. The other two were:
Sesame Tuna Tartare with Chive, Shallot and Cucumber – this was the most Asian influenced dish of those that we tried, and while it was good, it was not outstanding. The tuna was fresh and tender, but not mushy, well accented by biting shallots, mild cucumber and salty soy. Unfortunately, the sesame flavor was not prebalent enough, and the dish felt a bit one dimensional – all bite and salt, with no lush or nutty notes. It was good, but not a must order. 
Branzino Lemon Ceviche with Red Onoin, Tomato, Fennel and Dill – the BEST dish on the table – and, as you see, we ordered quite a few dishes. The branzino, cut into large but not unwieldy slices, was saturated with the fresh taste of lemon, verdant dill, pungent red onion and sweet fennel. The branzino itself was tender and pleasantly salty – it tasted incredibly fresh and bright. The tomatoes were added in right before we got the dish, so it was not mushy or mealy. The fennel added a crunchy texture and the marinade itself was so fresh and mouthwatering that I was spooning it into my mouth like soup. This was remarkable. 
The whole brunch was pretty remarkable. The ambiance was lovely, the prices were fair and the food was inventive and flavorful. Plus, I got to fulfil my lifelong dream of ordering everything off at least one section of the menu.
Fig & Olive on Urbanspoon

Habanero Gazpacho for Yom Kippur

Jews around the world will celebrate Yom Kippur this week, and as such, will be serving whitefish salad, cold cuts and premade casseroles galore. See, when you can’t eat or cook all day, you need something that can be made ahead of time, can be heated up quickly or eaten cold and can serve a large amount of people. Because when those people can eat…they will be need to eat IMMEDIATELY!

You need Gazpacho
This is adapted heavily from Serious Eats’ gazpacho recipe – I made a bigger batch, added some vegetables and altered the spice quotient to make it JUST this side of painful. The result is a cool, savory soup that is both beautiful and delicious. Thicker than some gazpachos, this is for those of you who would almost rather chew your soup than just be able to slurp it. Bonus – you can finally use u the last of the gorgeous Summer produce that you have in your fridge.  
3.5 Lbs or 6 Large, ripe tomatoes, peeled
1.5 Cups olive oil
1/2 Loaf country, Italian or French bread
2 Bell peppers, any color
4 Cucumbers
1 Habanero pepper
2 Sweet onions
2 tsp. Kosher Salt, plus more to taste
Pepper, to taste
3 Tbls. Sherry Vinegar
2 Cloves garlic
Handful of chopped parsley, to garnish

 1)Skin your cucumbers, taking care not to take your skin off with the cucumber peels.

 2)Cut the heads and ends off the cucumbers,

 and slice the cucumbers down the middle, lengthwise.

 3)Scoop out the seeds with a spoon (the seeds will just make your soup watery and diluted),

 and cut your cukes into half moons. Place them in a large bowl.

 4)Cut your onions into large pieces – maybe 1/8ths – and place them in the bowl

 5)Slice the stem ends off your peeled tomatoes,

 core them

 and cut them into quarters. Place them in the large bowl with the other veggies.

 6)Add the bell peppers

 and habaneros to the bowl. Slice the habaneros into quarters or sixths, making sure to include the seeds in the bowl if you want it hotter, and keeping the seeds out of the bowl if you don’t want it as spicy.

 7)Add the garlic cloves, roughly chopped.

 8)Sprinkle the 2 Tbls. salt over the vegetables…

 making sure to mix them into the veggies thoroughly. Let the bowl sit for 30 minutes. The point is to extract all the excess water from the veggies, making the vegetable’s flavor concentrate.

 9)After the veggies have rested, remove the vegetables with a slotted spoon (retaining the juice in the bowl),

 place them on a tinfoiled baking sheet in as much of a single layer as possible (some overlap is okay),

 and put the tray in the freezer for 30 minutes. The point here is to break down the vegetables’ cell structure by freezing them. You want the cell structure to break down so they release the flavor. One way to do this is by cooking vegetables, another…by freezing them. I had my doubts, but this step is absolutely vital. Don’t skip it. When they are done freezing, let them rest at room temperature for about 20 minutes, or until they no longer feel frozen stiff.

 10)While the veggies come to room temperature put the bread into the bowl with the vegetables’ run-off juice. In about 20 minutes…

 the bread will have absorbed all of the juice and flavor.

 11)fill your blender up about halfway with half and half vegetables and soaked bread (it took me 2 batches to use up all my ingredients).

 12)As you start to blend the soup, pour in the olive oil. You may need to jimmy the bottom of the blender at first to get the moisture down to the bottom. Don’t be shy with the olive oil – if you need more, you need more.

 You know you are on the right track when you start ot see the bottom of the soup liquefying.

 13)When the soup is mostly liquefied, but not all the way, add the sherry vinegar and blend until the mixture is uniformly smooth. There will still be texture to it, and that is what you want. You just don’t want huge pieces of unblended vegetables in there.

14)Let the soup rest for at least an hour, then taste for salt and pepper, garnish with parsley and serve.

This soup is so vibrant and robust that it practically smacks you in the face. Each vegetable’s flavor is pronounced and clear, yet none overshadows the other. The acidic tomatoes, mild cucumbers, sweet bell peppers, and pungent garlic and onions all melded together into an incredibly savory, earthy soup. The sherry vinegar adds tang and the olive oil gives a rich, but not heavy mouthfeel. The habanero adds quite a punch, but not so much that it is lip-burning hot..just enough so that you might want to add a cool dollop of sour cream to the bowl. The bread makes the soup thick and filling, and though it is vegetarian, it is shockingly satisfying and umami-filled.
Now the hardest thing will be waiting until sundown to eat it!

Socarrat Paella Bar – The Good Stuff is Burned

After the delicious paella at Alta, my interest in the traditional Spanish dish was peaked. Why have I never really explored this type of food before? It’s rice. It’s meat. What’s not to love?
To that end, I headed to Socarrat Paella Bar. This restaurant, with 2 NYC locations, mainly focused on paella. You can choose from variety of different paellas, as well as assorted tapas. 
The restaurant – for which you will definitely want reservations – features one long, thin table where you sit with your dining partner. This would be very hard to do with more than 4 people. It is also a little crowded and the stools have no backs – doesn’t bother me, just FYI. Though there are some tables in the adjoining wine bar…come on, people! Have some fun here! Suck it up and sit at the long paella bar. Half the fun is seeing what the people next to you are eating.
The paellas are all made to order, so the server suggests you order a few tapas to start the meal with while you wait the 25 minutes or so for the paella. 
Pan Tomaca – Toast, Tomato, Olive Oil, Garlic, Sherry Vinegar. 
Also known as Pan Con Tomate, this is often one of my favorite dishes in a tapas restaurant. Sadly, this just didn’t cut it for me – the bread was too fresh, rendering it a bit soggy. You really want a crusty, tough piece of bread that can stand up to juicy tomatoes and vibrant garlic. There was not enough salt or garlic, leaving the tomatoes flat tasting and a bit acidic. It was not a fortuitous start to the meal. 
Tortilla – Egg and Potato Omelette
Luckily, this picked things up. If you have never had a Spanish tortilla, you might be expecting a round flatbread made of flour or corn – the thing that you get with a plate of fajitas. Not so. A Spanish tortilla is a light but rich omelette filled with slivers of tender potatoes and sharp onions, served with a garlicky mayonnaise. Mayonnaise on top of eggs. Possibly the most delicious experience ever. This tortilla was perfection  -thick but incredibly light, with the onions and potatoes breaking up the fluffy texture of the egg. 
Meat Paella with Duck, Pork, Chicken and Chorizo
The decision on which Paella to order was a difficult one, but we really wanted to try the chorizo, and this is the only paella on the menu with chorizo in it. The paella arrived in a sizable pan (minimum order is for 2), which was set in front of us. 5 minutes after the server set it down, she came back and scraped up the bottom of the pan, so we could get the crunchy bits of rice(called the socarrat -see how they did that?) from the bottom of the pan. 
Much like bibimbap, the crunchy, chargrilled bits of rice were my favorite part. Adding a slightly bitter, crunchy, caramelized texture to the rice, it took the dish from great to unmissable. I have to be honest and say that I couldn’t really detect the pork, chicken or duck from one another. All the meat was in small , tender chunks, having an extremely hearty, earthy taste. It kind of had the best of all worlds – the proteins seemed to pick up the gentle subtlety of the chicken, the gaminess of the duck and the unctuous fat of the pork. It was basically a delicious barnyard. The chorizo was a salty, garlicky, fatty-crunchy delight. The rice was glistening in fat but not at ALL greasy – just the perfect marriage of starch and fat. It was a bit salty, and next time I would ask for it with less salt, but it wasn’t salty enough to ruin the dish. 
I mean, if it was…would we have scraped the dish clean with our forks and fought over the last of the socarrat?
This meal hit the Paella-craving spot! A fun atmosphere, more than reasonable prices and totally delicious food made for a great date night spot or dinner out with friends. Just make sure that you tell your dining partner that the stuff on the bottom of the paella pan is burned…that way, you can eat the socarrat all by yourself.
Socarrat Paella Bar on Urbanspoon

Alta – The Tops in Tapas

If I ever eat with you, I WILL expect you to share your food. The best thing about eating out is trying a little bit of everything – tasting together, discussing it, disagreeing on the best dish. It’s what makes eating out into an experience, vs. just a fueling session. If you don’t share, you can’t eat with me. 
 And you definitely can’t eat at Alta, a globally-influenced tapas restaurant in the West Village. 
 When we arrived for our reservation, the bar area was hopping and noisy. Narrow but not crowded, this was a place to see and be seen – not so great for a first date, but perfect for catching up with friends or for a post-work happy hour. 
 The restaurant is deceptively large, with many rooms, including some that you access…
by walking straight through the kitchen.  
 Crispy Brussels Sprouts fuji apples, crème fraiche, pistachio nuts.
These Brussels sprouts were outstanding – the best I have had since 9. Crispy as potato chips, lightly salted, with jsut a bit of that faint cabbage taste that Brussels sprouts lovers crave. The creme fraiche on top added a tart creaminesss that counteracted the meatiness of the pistachios and the natural sugars that caramelized on the sprouts’ crispy edges. The apple added a crunch and freshness, and the dish was so great, we had to place a second order.  
 Lamb Meatballs with spiced butternut squash foam, toasted sesame seeds and lebne. 
Fragrant with cinnamon and earthy from the lamb. The butternut squash was zesty, but not spicy-hot, and was reminiscent of Moroccan cooking – sweet and savory at the same time. Lebne is a very thick Middle Eastern yogurt-cheese hybrid, and what goes better with meat than dairy?
Don’t tell my rabbi I just said that. 
Braised Short Rib of Beef with Beet-Barbaresco taglierini, fresh grated horseradish.
Standout dish of the night. Beef with fresh horseradish shavings…so simple yet so brilliant! How many times have you had creamed horseradish with prime rib? This horseradish – fresh and hot enough to clear your nasal passages – mixed with the melting, soft, unctuous short ribs, which were straightforward and beefy as they 
should be. The horseradish, grated finely enough to not be jarring to the palate, sliced straight through the fattiness of the beef, with a pleasant heat. The pasta was toothsome, and though the flavor of the noodle was not not discernible, it provided a good background to a GREAT main dish. 
 Seared Sea Scallops with Mangalitsa ham, lemon thyme dressing and pumpkinseed oil.
Mangalitsa ham comes from pigs who are descended from wild boars. Their name comes from a Serbian word, meaning “hog with a lot of lard.” Already, it sounds beautiful, right? Clearly, it was delicious with the scallop. The scallop was a substantial one, thickly crusted on the outside, and buttery rich within. Not an earth shattering combination, but pork and shellfish are always a winner. 
Once again…don’t tell my rabbi. 
Pulled Pork Empanadas with sweet and spicy cilantro dipping sauce. 
Such an atrocious picture for such a wonderful dish. Flaky dough that was so multi layered and rich that it HAD to have been made with lard. Succulent porky insides that were flecked with red pepper. Cilantro sauce that was at first grassy and bright, then became earthy and finally hit me with a spice so fruity and intense that it reminded me of Venezuelan hot sauce. This is a must get. 
Braised Octopus, Carrot and Daikon Salad with citrus cumin dressing, cilantro.
The octopus had no hint of seafood about it – to the point where I wouldn’t have even known it was octopus if I hadn’t seen the menu. It was toothsome but not at all rubbery, and absorbed the warming, aromatic flavors of the cumin and the cilantro. The vegetables provided a crisp counterpart to the meaty octopus, and this dish is a great one for someone new to octopus. 
Squid Ink Paella mixed shellfish, preserved lemon, guindillas peppers and scallions.
I had never had squid ink paella before, and I think that maybe it makes the rice cremy? In any case, this was some of the creamiest rice I have ever had at a restaurant, without any mushiness or actual cream used in the
 recipe. The gentle brininess of the shellfish made the dish pleasantly salty, and the tender cockles, plump
 mussels and delightfully crunchy calamari tentacles made the dish one I would order again and again. Not overly seasoned with saffron or salt, the star of this was the creamy texture of the rice, even over the seafood. 

And the star of the meal? That’s impossible to say. Yes, I loved the short ribs the most, but there is no one dish that we would not have ordered again. The service was attentive and quick, the wine list was reasonably priced, and the food was unique and totally delicious. The only thing I would say is that this is not the place to come if you have a huge appetite or a small wallet. You can eat a bit here relatively cheaply or eat a lot here for a relatively large amount of money. 
Just dont’ forget that you won’t be eating it all. Remember…I expect you to share.
Alta on Urbanspoon