The last time I went to this gem in the rough, was during a “B” roll shoot about three years ago. I’m not sure if it’s because that whole period is somewhat of a blur to me, but I didn’t remember the food…that is, until Migui and I passed it the other day, and made a point of a return visit. Founded in 1868 and home to the Spanish Benevolent Society, La Nacional is a cozy, rustic, yet charming restaurant/club that you could easily walk right past. This past Monday, Migui and I decided to brave the elements, and make the pilgrimage.
The dining room is softly lit with autographed prints of matadors and such on the walls. We decided to order up some nice warm soup to help ward off the chill of the day. I ordered the Sopa de Ajo (garlic soup), and Migs ordered the Caldo Gallego because she wanted to see if it was as good as her mom’s.
This version of Sopa de Ajo was absolutely delicious, with a rich broth, pieces of soaked bread, a beaten egg, and of course, plenty of garlic. I could have been quite happy just making this lunch, but where would that leave this blog?
Migui’s Caldo was equally amazing, thickened with white beans and potato cubes, scented with smoke from the ham, and delicately flavored with the greens. Again, exactly what the doctor ordered on a chilly day.
We decided to order a few different tapas, deciding on the traditional tortilla Espanola, Gambas al Ajillo (shrimp in garlic sauce), Pulpo a lo Gallego (octopus with paprika and olive oil), patatas bravas (spicy potatoes), and a meat and cheese plate. The verdict? The tortilla was the best I have ever had, here or in Spain, the texture is difficult to describe, almost is if it had been shredded, the eggs set, but not dry.
The Gambas were also devine, perfectly perfumed with sauteed garlic that had been rendered almost sweet. The olive oil fragrant and fruity, and the sauce literally cried out for a piece of crusty bread for mopping up!
The meat and cheese platter , or El Campero, was a delightful choice with slices of chorizo, serrano, and manchego…add a glass of red Rioja, and I’m good to go!
The potatoes and the pulpo failed to bring raves. Although the pulpo was tender, it was underseasoned, and the dish could have benefited from some crushed red pepper flakes , a bit of garlic, or even some hot or smoked paprika. It left me bland, while the potatoes just confused me. Cubed and fried, they were served with what was supposed to be a spicy tomato sauce (it wasn’t) and mayonnaise….I’ll pass.
As good as most of our dishes had been, absolutely nothing could have prepared me for what happened next: The Paella de la Casa (the house paella)…one word:UNBELIEVABLE. No exaggeration. Short grained rice, perfectly cooked in a paella pan that made a delectable crust around the rim and the bottom, nestling tiny cockles, mussels, and clams which were sweet as an ocean breeze, chunks of braised chicken, and garnished with roasted red peppers and peas.
By now, I was so full my nose was stuffed, but we ordered Crema Catalana (delicious), the Flan (very traditional), and the Budin de Pan (comfort food). You can rest assured that it will not be three years before I return to this place…and its easy on the purse, too!
|Address||239 W. 14th St., New York, NY, 10011-7149|