Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Restaurant 2: Tia Pol

LOCATION: 205 10th Ave., Chelsea
DATE: April 3, 2005
FOOD: Two orders of patatas bravas, fried chickpeas, tortilla EspaƱola, lamb skewers, ham croquettes, chorizo with chocolate, chorizo in sherry, calimocho, hazelnut cake
BEVERAGE: Half pitcher of Sangria
PRICE: $43.00

“This is incredible!”

I think that was my exact quote as we ordered our second round of patatas bravas at Tia Pol, the unassuming tapas restaurant which has received so much press lately. In the lag time between our first and second rounds of exquisite Spanish food, I was already planning my return visit.

Tapas, in my experience, is typically mediocre. Mas, the lone tapas place in Charlottesville where I attended college, was always good, never great. The mojitos outshined the food and the bread was better than the dips you placed on it. And then there was the debacle that was my tapas experience in London. A word of advice, if your eating companions think you’re taking them to a strip club when you suggest a Spanish restaurant, run, make haste to the nearest Starbucks or McDonald’s and drop them off. Otherwise, the meal is ruined before it even begins.

So, Tia Pol, can be viewed as my tapas redemption. Low lights and close seating provide an ideal atmosphere for two-person sharing. The reputation of the fried chickpeas had preceeded them, and they lived up to the high praise. As light as popcorn but with the crunch and color of caramel corn, the chickpeas burst in your mouth with a salty flavor all their own. They went nicely with the tortilla Espanola, which had perhaps too many potatoes, but was a solid retake on a classic Spanish staple all the same. But where Tia Pol excels is in its uncommon offerings. An example is the chorizo with chocolate. The sausage is sliced thin as paper and served atop a baguette. Between meat and bread is a layer of chocolate (Danny guessed Nutella) that created a unique and wonderful merging of tastes, reminding me of my night before at WD-50. Less inventive, while equally as amazing, was the chorizo in sherry. The wine was used to highlight, instead of mask the flavor of the pork, and produced a wonderful glaze over the dish. The lamb skewers caused my mouth to drop, the meat being so tender you could recommend it to your grandpa, telling him to forget the Fixadent, as the lamb practically dissolved with first bite. And then there were the ham croquettes, a more perfect Hot Pocket, lightly fried and oozing cheese. Ordered as an afterthought, the ham croquettes would have been my favorite plate of the evening if the patatas bravas weren’t on the menu.

I don’t deny that I’m a potato fanatic. Okay, maybe even freak. But in my defense, I think this makes me more, rather than less critical of the spuds I decide to put in my body. Too often restaurants put no effort into their potatoes and we all suffer from their obliviousness. During my time in New York, the best roast potatoes I’ve had have been at Italian restaurants, namely Babbo and Cacio e Pepe. The patatas bravas blew them both away. Containing the perfect (I realize I’m using this word a lot, but it’s really the only one that fits) contrast of exterior crispness and interior softness, these potatoes deserved to be ordered twice. It was hard not to just grab the dish from Danny, forsaking the original intention of tapas, and hoard the plate for myself. Like all good potatoes, these had plenty of salt, ideally washed down by the house Sangria. Drizzled on top was a cheese sauce that I can only compare to Velveeta on steroids. When I say I could have eaten these every night of my life, even a week later, I think I just might be serious.

Tia Pol then has made me an ardent believer in tapas once again. As I left the restaurant, belly full, grinning like an idiot, I was surprised to be walking back out onto 10th Avenue and not onto an arcaded side-street somewhere in the heat of Barcelona.

Rating: 9.2/10

1 comment:

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