Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Spanish Revelation

El Quinto Pino
401 West 24th Street
New York, NY 10011
Chef Veronica Santos
"Dinner" nightly

El Quinto Pino on Urbanspoon

Tried: April 2008

It has been a long time since any food discovery has excited me this much-- well, to be accurate, since I have experienced a truly new food discovery. I would probably count among them my encounters with Komi, Kiss, and Manresa (3 years, 7 years, and 3 years ago respectively), but otherwise it has been a while since any taste has really knocked my socks off.

The uni panini at El Quinto Pino did it. The New York Magazine critics have rarely steered me wrong, and on this they were absolutely on point. The warm, thin, diminutive, baguette-like sandwich, hot off the panini press with the bright yellow-orange scallops of uni still intact and unmelted (with the texture slighly thickened similar to when sushi restaurants opt to torch the top, and also reminiscent of homemade, slightly curdled hollandaise sauce-- not that I have had any experience with that...), is of the perfect size and perfect taste profile. The mustard seed oil that Chef Veronica Santos drizzles inside the sandwich provides the same sinus kick of slightly too much fresh wasabi or a bit of the good horseradish you used to get at old-fashioned prime rib houses. The chewy buttery bread combines seamlessly with the creamy buttery uni, and the end result is nothing less than blow-off-the-top-of-your-head delicicious.

Not that the rest of the menu is anything less impressive. The white anchovies marinated in olive oil were beautifully meaty yet delicate (be sure to soak up the residual flavored oil with the magnificent bread from Tom Cat Bakery). The fideua with cuttlefish in a saffron aioli made me want to cry with its combination of salty, sweet, rich-savory, spicy flavors and multiple colors and textures (despite being just a wee bit on the salty side). The generous slices of pork head cheese with pickled cauliflower and carrots were rich, creamy, salty, and decadent, with the pickled vegetables adding the ideal piquant accent and a zing of freshness to the glorious meat terrine.

The space is tiny, tiny, tiny-- with a row of seats along the bar and a few more scattered around the wall. Go early if you want to grab one of the bar stools, otherwise it is standing room only, with one bartender and one server attending to the entire "dining room." The bartender's recommendations on wine were spot on to match the intriguing small plates. The chalkboard menu-- literally, chalkboards above the bar, nothing printed-- is a bit hard to read but put yourself in the knowledgeable bartender's hands, and she will not steer you wrong.

I love this place! I haven't been this excited since I tried Momofuku ramen for the first time.


adele said...

Wow. This place sounds exciting... what's the price range?

Anonymous said...

Three glasses of wine plus 6 small plates came to a little over $90. The uni panini is $15.

Ann said...

Will definitely give it a try!

Ann said...

We went last night and loved it. Pricey, but really, really good. I'm with you on the uni panini!

Anonymous said...

The uni panini really is a magnificent creation, isn't it? I would be happy to have it for breakfast and/or dessert, and anytime in between.

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