Lara also is founder and editor of Grits in the City
Last Thursday, Meg and I tried to visit the Frying Pan over along the Hudson. It was gorgeous outside, and we wanted to eat outdoors as well. When we bumped into a sea of couldn’t-have-been-21-year-old frat boys in pale suit jackets, khakis, and loafers, we found ourselves scrambling to come up with a perfect Plan B. In the middle of desolate West Chelsea, a virtual sea of uninhabited warehouses and the occasional art gallery. We slowly made our way back east, resigning ourselves to having to hike at least to 9th Avenue and who knows where from there, when we literally found ourselves in the doorway to a dimly lit restaurant on West 24th Street. We peeked in and upon seeing this mystery spot was a tapas bar, decided to give it a shot.
I’ve been to other tapas bars throughout the city. While I’ve found many to be acceptable, I also usually find them to have the same quasi-pretentious air about them now with their recent surge in popularity. Having sudied one summer in Madrid, I know it’s possible to have good tapas without all the stuffiness – and El Quinto Pino nailed this on the head. I could almost see myself back in Spain 9 years ago, descending down the stairs to my first true tapas bar. Perfect.Note, there are no true tables here, period. There’s a long bar area and a long common ledge along the left-hand side of the restaurant. Maximum seating cannot be more than 16.
Once your eyes adjust, you’ll see the walls are big chalkboards and the menu is written out on it on each wall, with the drinks falling on the columns located along the bar area. There are no paper menus, so no need to ask, but there are usually specials (you’ll have to ask for those). We ordered a pitcher of sangria (a better deal than ordering individual glasses) and got to squinting through the menu. All dishes are between $3-$15.
To start off, we ordered the gambas al ajillo. I’m used to it being served with garlic, but the variation at El Quinto Pino was also including in jalapeño and ginger, a unique combination I was curious to try. I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised. The initial bite was a bit surprising – not overwhelmingly spicy, but definitely a departure from what I find to be standard garlicky sauce of gambas al ajillo. After that first bite passed though, I really enjoyed the dish. It was a more flavorful variation and there was a generous amount of the sauce to sop up with the thinly sliced bread that accompanied the tapa. Don’t be shy – just ask if you need more bread. They’re happy to oblige.
Next, we decided to try the pinchos morunos, which was one large-sized marinated lamb skewer. I’m picky when it comes to lamb, and really liked their preparation. The meat wasn’t super chewy (definite plus) and was simply prepared – no overwhelming sauce, primarily just spices. It was served atop a buttery slice of bread. Once we took the lamb off of the skewer, it was quite easy to divide this between two.
We weren’t planning on ordering a third item, but we kept seeing the pork sandwich go by and it smelled amazing. We pulled over our server to confirm, and sure enough it was the Lomo bocata (sandwich), which was the house-cured pork loin, melted cheese, and piquillo pepper. It arrived, already cut in two segments, with melted cheese peeping out each side. The pork was flavorful, but it was the cheese – the cheese – which made this sandwich. I’ve never had tetilla cheese before (and rest assured I’ll be on a mad hunt to buy some of this ASAP) and I kind of wanted to ask for a side of more melted cheese. Please? The cheese is slightly sweet and soft. Perfect for a sandwich.
I missed that they are known for their sea urchin sandwich. Maybe next time I will try that. Or perhaps not… I definitely want to try their Horchata Milk Punch, made of frozen tiger nut milk and brandy. While their sangria was good, it was missing a little something (more brandy? Brandy at all?). What a fabulous surprise of a find. Highly recommend.
El Quinto Pino – 401 W. 24th St (b/w 9th & 10th Avenues) – 212.206.6900
Reservations Not Accepted