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Demystifying Tapas in New York City: How to Sample Tapas and Eat More Adventurously

[ NEW YORK, NY - NYC - 4/9/2006 - www.Littleviews.com ]

New York tapas. Littleviews

>>  When it comes to food fads, we either indulge and forget, or simply obsess. There's the dim sum brunch. The lychee martini happy hour. Or perhaps you are all too familiar with all-you-can-eat sushi deals, and the $6.95 Indian buffet. Seasonal fads in New York usually center around unusual-sounding margarita flavors, such as cucumber, pomegranate, and jalapeno-grapefruit. Food trends come and go, but the fad that evolved into a cult-like staple is tapas.

In New York, tapas refers to a dining style where restaurants or bars serve many small plates of food for you, your date, or your group of friends, colleagues, and family to pick through and devour. What you receive is a plethora of little treats. And what treats they are! Dishes run the gamut from innovative, to quite simple and home cooked. They generally range in price from $2.50 to $15 a plate.

When in Spain, you might eat tapas to satiate hunger between lunch in dinner. In New York, however, you might order enough croquettes and chorizo to comprise a full meal. New Yorkers' love for tapas has proven to be a great way to try nearly every dish on a menu without committing to just one, or regretting a pricey bad choice. When shared as a group, the dishes offer anywhere from a bite, to a slice, to your very own savory empanada (a small, Spanish pocket).

New York tapas. Littleviews

Here are a few tips on choosing well when eating tapas:

  • Explore the varieties of meat. Chicken, beef, and pork are safe bets. Test your taste buds on the buffalo, bison, lamb, and rabbit dishes, too. The sauces and garnishes make for surprising combinations.

  • Don’t overlook what seems like regular food. Cheese plates, roasted almonds, omelettes, olive tapenades, and bruschetta often employ surprising ingredients, giving classics a new taste.

  • If you don’t like it, don’t worry, your friends might! If not, order another dish. At a tapas place, ordering another, and then another, won’t garner critical glances from anyone. Ordering three to five dishes each is nothing. Feel free to pig out!

  • Pace yourself. As a group, order two or three dishes first. When done, ask your server to show you the menu again and reflect on where your tastes and the server’s suggestions guide you. Consider adopting the laidback pace of Spanish and Latin American culture and indulge in multi-hour dinners. Take your time and enjoy.

  • Eat at the bar. The bar is best if you dine alone or with another person. Tapas bars are great social venues in which to gossip, "politalk," and rant and rave about anything with nearby folk and bartenders.

  • Most importantly, challenge your palate. Try the scallop and foi gras satays, zucchini-stuffed squid, or crab in banana leaf. You’ll never know what’s out there unless you sample it!

Now that you are armed with your tapas technique, here are my favorite places:

    New York tapas. LittleviewsN at 33 Crosby Sttreet. (212 219-8856) The skinny, narrow bar could easily be passed by if you aren’t in the know. N (pronounced en-yay) is dark and great for cuddling with your date, or sharing an intimate dinner with friends if you can manage to grab an available seat. The octopus, chorizo, and cheese plate are my staples.

    Esperanto at 145 Avenue C. (212 505-6559) The live Brazilian and Latin Jazz is what will lure you to take a peek. Inside are two rooms, the main one with a super social bar where crowds are known to break out in impromptu Latin dance. The plantains here are some of the city’s best.

    The Stanton Social at 99 Stanton Street. (212 995-0099) They describe their menu simply as "dishes designed for sharing." It’s hard to actually do that when everything is just so damn good, because you will want it all for yourself. The space is open and hip, designed with 1940s-era style and glamour. I love the fava bean and goat cheese ravioli, duck empanadas, and red snapper tacos.

    Xunta at 174 First Avenue. (212 614-0620) This subterranean spot gets plenty of young professionals who pack in and sit at rum-barrel tables. Here you’ll find classic Spanish recipes in more of a traditional setting. I can’t get enough of the queso cabrales (a blue cheese from Spain), which is truly addictive with Xunta’s homemade bread.

    Agozar! at 324 Bowery. (212 677-6773) This is a colorful and festive Cuban spot with 25 choices of tapas. The name means "a good time" in Spanish, and promises just that. Sit at the interesting angular bar, or take over its narrow back room (perfect for hosting a private party). The mussels steamed in banana leaf is my favorite dish.

Shira Levine

Article and photos by Shira Levine. First published on 4/9/2006. All rights reserved by www.Littleviews.com.

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