neighborhood exploration: hell’s kitchen and tapas

For a girl that lives on the east side, dinner on the west side is a rarity BUT for tapas, I will do anything…even take the bus!

Tapas are known as Spanish small plates. I love them because you have the opportunity to have a small taste of many different dishes and of course, share with the people you are enjoying your meal with. Because of the popularity tapas has received here in the U.S., non-Spanish restaurants have embraced the concept. You can find a tapas place in almost every type of cuisine very easily: Asian, Mexican, Italian…the list will go on.

With the company of a great friend, we set out on our very own mini tapas tour of two of the top-rated tapas bars, according to Yelp, in Hell’s Kitchen. These tapas bars were not traditional Spanish cuisine however, they were still tasty, overall.

LOCATIONS:

Ardesia – 510 W 52nd St (Between 10th and 11th Ave.) http://ardesia-ny.com/

Casellula -401 W 52nd St (Between 9th and 10th Ave.) http://www.casellula.com/

Ardesia

The restaurant definitely has a romantic vibe going on but, it is also perfect if you are looking to have some tapas with a friend, coworker or family member. A versatile restaurant is important.. The host seated us in the lounge area which included comfortable couches and small tables to snack off of. We each ordered a glass of the Malbec. I recently started drinking red wine after years of being a white phanatic (haha a little Philly love for some of my readers!). What made me realize what I was missing ordering glass after glass of Riesling or Pinot Grigio? A trip to Spain (more about that later.).

The Malbec we ordered was from Argentina, where it has become their signature grape. Malbec is known for having a medium to full-body and high levels of tannin as well as ripe fruit flavors like plums, black cherry and blackberry. All you really need to know is that I loved it and I think you should order it. After some wine, it was onto the food. Since we anticipated going to another tapas place, we only ordered a few things. Here is what I thought:

Quail Egg Toast – It came with house-cured bacon, a perfectly fried quail egg, and a simple but wonderfully done, hollandaise. It was a taste of brunch at dinner. The quail egg was cooked with a runny yellow center which complimented the hollandaise. I highly recommend ordering this when you visit.

quail egg toast

Shrimp – It came with chorizo, garlic, and a white wine broth. They served with some of Amy’s Bread. This was a simple dish and tasty but, nothing you cannot find at any other tapas bar here in the city. The bread was phenomenal so I did a little more research to find out where I can get some in the future. Amy’s Bread has 3 locations in the city currently (Hell’s Kitchen, Chelsea Market, and the Village). They have it all: cakes, pastries and of course, bread. Another place to check out that I have now added to my list.

shrimp

Pulled Pork Sliders – When I saw this arrive at the table, I was not impressed visually. Instead of using a typical roll or bun, they decided to go with what reminded me of those sandwich thins you buy at the grocery store when you are trying be healthy. If I am drinking wine, I am not looking for sandwich thins. However, when I took my first bite, my opinion changed drastically. The pickled cipollini onions added a perfect crunch and the there was just enough sauce to keep the pulled pork soft and juicy. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this tapa but I did. Kudos to our waiter for recommending this dish to us.

pork sliders

Casellula

After our initial tapas, we walked down the street to tapas bar #2 on our tour of Hell’s Kitchen. Casellula mimicked the same romantic vibe as Ardesia but you will find a lot of non-couples in the res truant as well. Since it was very busy, we decided to sit at the bar and I am glad we did. Sitting at a bar is sometimes even better than getting a table while dining out. You get to see the hustle and bustle of the kitchen and chat with the bartender. To stay consistent with our beverage choice, we ordered another glass of Malbec and again, I was left very happy. We got a little menu happy at this place and ordered more than we could eat (this tends to happen to me…) and ended up making it a very pork-filled meal. This was not our intention.

Bacon Butter Popcorn – Sounds pretty awesome, right? It was not. It came with bacon, sherry vinegar, and chives. Flavorless and oily is what we got. I reached for several handfuls hoping that it would miraculously taste better and it continued to leave me disappointed. Do not waste your time ordering this.

popcorn

Mixed Green Salad – I love vegetables so I was in need of some so I ordered some greens. It was a standard salad with tomato, red onion, and Chèvre (goat cheese). The herb vinaigrette was perfect. Nothing special but it was definitely necessary after all the pork we ate.

salad

Pig’s Ass Sandwich – The best thing on the menu. If we weren’t so full, we would have been able to devour the whole thing. The cheese provided the right amount of creaminess with the pork, the pickles gave the panini-like sandwich crunch and the chipotle aioli, a little kick. All around, the pig’s ass was a win.

pig sandwich

Mac and Cheese – I wasn’t impressed. Design having lardons, small cubes/stops of pork fat, there wasn’t enough salt. Seasoning is key.

mac and cheese

Do you have a favorite tapas bar in Hell’s Kitchen or another neighborhood in NYC? What is your go-to tapa to order? Please share your answers, thoughts, or questions in the comments area.

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