St. Patty's Spanish Style: Las Ramblas Tapas Bar
So in the year 2007, I decided it was time to go out and have fun on St. Patty's Day, even if my Irish ancestors were Protestants. England shipped my Scottish ancestors to the Americas as slaves, and I still rooted for them during the world Cup, so I'm over things, even if others are still fighting over Cromwell.
But somehow, I ended up celebrating the first half of St. Patty's sitting in tapas bar Las Ramblas. Nothing says Ireland quite like tapas and white berry pomegranate sangria.
But what could I do? About a week ago, I woke and realized that all I wanted to do for the foreseeable future was eat Spanish or American Southern food , and it seemed like a good time to start. I picked Las Ramblas at random out of the Time Out Dining Guide, rounded up a couple friends, and braved the ice-encased outside world to dig into some ham and cheese croquettes. Of course, the beauty of tapas is that when you are faced with one of those dining experiences where there are a multitude of things on the menu that look tempting, you don't have to chose. You can just order them all. So our group ordered Gambas San Martin (shrimp in garlic, white wine, and lemon), Setas al Jerez con Almendras (sauteed mushrooms with almonds in sherry wine), Albondigas (roasted meatballs with garlic, manchego cheese, and oregano dressing), Bocadillos Crujientes (crispy little sandwiches with York ham, mahon cheese, and piquillo peppers), and of course, Croquetas de Jamon. Just in case that wasn't already too many plates to fit on our tiny tables, we threw in the Mejillones al Jerez (Prince Edward Mussels in tomato sherry wine sauce) and the Plato de Charcuteria, which consisted of 18-month "black label" Serrano, cantimpalo, grilled chorizo, chistorra, and morcilla sausages.
Needing something to wash all that down with, I ordered a glass of 2004 Senorio de Sarria No. 5 from Navarra, but quickly switched to the white berry pomegranate sangria. It's not that the wine was bad -- it's just that the sangria was that good.
The food ranged, using my professional food critic's criteria and scale, from "this is pretty damn good" to "holy cow, this is good!" I have no taste for mussels, so I won't comment on them, but the rest of the food was fabulous, and tine, brick-walled Las Ramblas quickly became one of my favorite tapas bars in the whole of New York. I'm afraid my vocabulary for reviewing food does not contain anything in the way of sophistication, so all I can do is reiterate the most base and obvious reactions. The Gambas San Martin and Croquetas de Jamon came out first. I have no idea why I have such an obsession with ham and cheese croquettes, but I do, and I'm at peace with it. A simple, standard dish that always makes me happy. These were some of the best I've had since delighting myself at some Spanish restaurant we wandered into more or less at random in London, based primarily on the criteria that it had a big ol' pig leg sitting in the front window. The shrimp was tasty but not to-die-for. What was to die for, however, were the roasted meatballs. I rarely eat meatballs since, as much as I love the meat, that's just too much meat in ball form. For Las Ramblas' Albondigas, however, I was happy to make an exception. Multiple times. Mushrooms as a course are not something that delighted everyone with us, but I thought the Setas al Jerez con Almendras were exceptional. The Charcuteria platter was a delirious tour of cured and encased meats, and represents the first time I've braved anything described to me by a waiter as being "a blood sausage." It was...interesting. Not bad, but not something I'm going to be bragging to the telephone switchboard operator about. The rest of the selections were delectable, though.
The champ of the whole meal was the sangria. In honor of St. Patty's day, we decided it was only good and proper to drink multiple glasses of the stuff. And then multiple pitchers. Regretfully, we didn't try the other sangria varieties (they also boast a sparkling strawberry and a red pear/white peach sangria) since the white berry pomegranate was too good to stray from.
Las Ramblas isn't a big place. Nestle don West 4th Street across from a row of sex toy and lingerie shops, it's easy to miss the humble brick exterior and Las Ramblas street sign. And a group of more than four would be hard pressed to squeeze into the diminutive interior, but for small groups, or for couples, it's a cozy, inviting space to indulge in some delicious tapas, fine Spanish wines, and world-class sangria.
Afterward, of course, we stumbled on the ice across the corner to over crowded Slaughtered Lamb, which we chose purely because it was next door. As part of the Jeckly and Hyde family, it's decorated with skeletons and werewolves and other such horrific iconography to make me happy. We sat at a table next to a skeleton in shackles and took in the more traditional St. Patty's Day fare of pitchers of Guinness, rousing sing-alongs to both "Danny Boy" and "Hungry Like a Wolf," and drunken, half-naked men in kilts playing bagpipes (OK, so it's Scottish, not Irish, but I'm both and that doesn't bother me. Plus, any time they bust out "Scotland the Brave"...). Well, three of them were in kilts. One was in a pleated Catholic schoolgirl's skirt.
Why have I not been doing this every year?
170 W. 4th Street
(between Jones and Cornelia, a block down from 6th Ave)
Open 4pm-midnight Sun-Thurs, 4pm-1am Friday & Saturday
The Slaughtered Lamb Pub
182 W. 4th Street (right across the corner from Las Ramblas)