June 24, 2019 | BITE: My Journal
Little Spain Diner: Como En Casa
I used my name to get a table. I guess that’s why we got the fabulous cheese plate. It’s not on the Diner menu.
I’m not a fan of shopping malls, but I forget that when I feel a craving for the steak and hash browns at Porter House Bar and Grill in the Time Warner Center. And recently I’ve succumbed to the eat-shop mix at Little Spain in Hudson Yards. Click here to read Mercado Little Spain.
Dime con quién andas, y te diré quién eres. Translation: Tell me who you hang out with and I’ll tell you who you are. Meaning: Birds of a feather flock together.
A hostess leads me to a curved leather banquette at the open back wall – big enough for our five.
That’s why I’m not likely to become a fan of dinner at Hudson Yards. I fear getting lost in Nordstrom’s while trying to find a pricey meal. But you might spot me trolling 30th Street to explore the Mercado dreamed up by José Andrés and the Adrià brothers, Ferran and Alberto.
We enter through Little Spain’s flower market.
It pleases me that Little Spain is easily entered from 30th Street between 11th and 10th Avenues.
Tonight I let the cab drift east to the corner where a flower shop leads to the host’s podium of The Diner. We might wander around from stand to stand discovering dishes I’ve never heard of, but I prefer to have the strange and unknown from the menu of “Grandmother’s Favorites” delivered.
José Andrés Olive Oil is for sale in the Mercado. Settle in, eat and shop if you will.
We sip gazpacho and share starters: pan de tomate and slivered peppers, eggplant and onions Catalana.
Five of us settle into a large half-circle tufted leather banquette where the exterior wall is open to the mild night air. My friends order wine and beer and I give a list of starters to the obliging little server. She looks like she could have arrived from Mexico or South America this morning. Actually it’s her fifth day waiting tables, the manager confides, when I salute her diligence.
Chilled tomato, cucumber and green pepper gazpacho, “like mama used to make,” is available by the glass.
I was 17 in Paris the last time I had salad Russe so I’m excited to find Ensaladilla Rusa as a starter here.
Individual glasses filled two-thirds full of less-than-thrilling gazpacho, and ensaladilla rusa –- potato salad with tuna, carrots and peas in mayonnaise -- arrive first, with platters of toasted tomato bread. Creamy little fried logs – Granny’s Spanish chicken fritters – follow. “Are you ordering dinner or can I choose, too?” Jennifer, one of my companions, asks.
Granny’s Spanish chicken croquetas are also a must-have starter for me.
A basket of baguette cuts and a saucer of butter pats appear. The escalivada catalana combines slices of fire-roasted red pepper, eggplant and onion with sherry dressing – five slivers of each, a wonderful collection of textures. Yes, we are getting an extra fuss…I guess I asked for it when I used my name by phone to get a table that wasn’t free when requested anonymously.
If there’s macaroni on the menu or maccarrones gratinados, of course, I’ll order it.
Cannelloni is stuffed with chicken, pork and duck liver and served under a blanket of béchamel and cheese.
Most of what we’re eating is good or very good or, at least, interesting. That’s why I’m shocked by the sluggish tomatoes, soft and mushy. But soon enough, larger plates of fine Spanish comfort food cover the table – lentil stew with chorizo and blood sausage, macaroni with bits of pork and tomato sauce, and plump rolls of cannelloni filled with chicken, pork and duck liver, under a blanket of béchamel sauce and melted cheese.
Our table is covered with entrées: lentils and rice, chicken stew, macaroni, cannelloni and, leftover tomatoes.
Shenandoah chicken stew swimming in sauce, and traditional macaroni.
“I don’t see anything green on the table,” my niece Dana chides. I study the menu again. Will it be gem lettuce with fried garlic? I decide on a plate called Xatonada – frisée tossed in romesco sauce with black olives and almonds. Frisée is very pale green, alas, but apparently Spanish grandmothers are not likely to favor romaine or arugula.
Another view of the entrées ready to share on our table.
Short ribs cooked in red wine with olive oil mashed potatoes.
I can’t say I’m blown away by the “Traditional Spanish Stews,” chicken with rice or the Catalan beef with mushrooms or the ribs braised in red wine with a side of olive oil mashed potatoes. They’re properly cooked, reasonably seasoned (maybe a dash of salt is needed) and, as Charles, sitting beside me notes, “very inexpensive.” That is a plus. You can spend modestly here. I’m finishing off the macaroni.
Thick slices of fabulous creamy cheese with abbreviated bread sticks arrive as a gift.
The cheese plate, delivered as a gift, signals what’s great about dining in this Mercado. It features soft, creamy slices of the powerful Rey Silo Magaya Massimo with little suqares of candied quince and breadsticks. It’s a cheese I am likely only to discover here. “Oh my, so good.” I dispatch Dana with my credit card to buy half a pound to go from the cheese kiosk.
Flan is served with whipped cream, a canned peach and ice cream alongside the Spanish goat cheesecake.
The mostly $8 Postres listing features Pijama, a flan with whipped cream, conserved peach and vanilla ice cream, as invented at Barcelona’s Restaurant les 7 Portes in 1951. Those of us still focused on eating also vote for the Spanish goat cheesecake too. I consider the liqueur-soaked pineapple too, piña borracha, but my friends seem to be ready for coffee. We pay $50 each plus tip for dinner – a modest tariff, not much less than you’d pay if your posse was billed for cheese.
I realize it’s been a long while, decades maybe, since I thought about my grandmother Cecilia. At her table the braised short ribs would have been brisket. And the flan would have been Royal Pudding. But love would have made it all just as sweet.
Mercado Little Spain. 10 Hudson Yards, enter on 30th Street between 10th and 11th Avenues or on the lower level of the shopping mall at 10 Hudson Yards. 646 495 1242. Seven days 7 am to 11 pm.
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