Sunday, April 6, 2008

Taking a Stand for Tapas

A friend suggested last week that I write about the restaurants where I've eaten. I'd thought about doing that on occasion. After all, eating lies just behind music among my passions. But I resisted for various reasons, the most significant of which is that I'm not the sort who snaps pictures of food at a restaurant -- not in NYC anyway. Reading about food without being able to get a taste or whiff is frustrating enough. But without even a freakin' picture so that you can take an imagined taste or whiff?

And then I remembered the primary reasons I started this blog. I write not so much to build an audience (although I do sincerely thank all two of you who visit this site on a semi-regular basis). Rather, I write primarily to record my thoughts for my own perusal, especially in the years ahead when the passage of time will surely mount an even more debilitating attack on my memories. So ... on with my first official entry about a dining experience in NYC.

I finally made my way over to El Quinto Pino on Friday night. It's been on my list of restaurants to try since it opened a few months ago. I had more reason to have been derelict than my Chelsea-residing companion: El Quinto Pino is in Chelsea, which is not my typical haunts.

It's a sliver of a space, even by NYC standards. No tables. Just a bar and a counter that lines the perimeter. We weren't able to find seats, but it was just fine to eat standing by the counter. Everything was bite-sized, so it was kinda like having a beer and munching on pretzels.

As usual, we got carried away with the ordering (especially since I had a rather heavy lunch at Lever House, which was quite the treat as well). Always seems to happen when I eat with this friend. We started with sandwiches of the uni and braised meat variety, cracklins, garlic shrimp and fried salt cod, which were all delicious. The Times called the uni sandwich -- warm uni spread like butter inside a toasty baguette -- the "Sandwich of the Year," and I certainly won't quarrel. I'm not even a big fan of uni, but that was a damn tasty sandwich. The second of the sandwiches reminded me of a Vietnamese barbecued pork sandwich, but with a more subtle flavor and bits of meat that are more tender. And the cracklins ... oh man. Like gourmet pork rinds. As best as I could tell, they were basically chunks of deep fried pork fat. (Recoil in disgust as you read, but roll your eyes toward the heavens when you taste.)

That wasn't quite enough for my friend, so we looked for more to order, which was a bit of a challenge. We'd basically exhausted the options on the short menu except for anchovies and vegetables. But we settled on Catalan head cheese. Not bad, but not really my thing. I prefer to eat my mystery brain parts warm.

And he was still hungry. So we asked the waitress to suggest something. She brought over an off-the-menu item -- a dish of broken noodles with bits of squid. After eating it, I could understand why that dish wasn't on the menu. Extremely salty and equally forgettable.

Overall, it was a very enjoyable dining experience (except for the silly noodles). I'd definitely go back.