Met a friend for a late dinner last night (I had to watch the new episode of The Office first- one day I'll get DVR...) at Las Ramblas on W4th in the Village. It's been unseasonably warm in the city, so we were fine to sit outside at high top on the street, zero wait (Las Ramblas, like most tapas bars, has a no-resy policy). Even though it was late, the restaurant still looked abuzz from the outside; I didn't get the chance to peek around because by that time I was hungry(!) and wanted to focus on the menu.
The food was great, but the thing I will also remember about this place is the great service. Our waitress excitedly explained the specials, all of which we were prepared to order, even after having already selected several plates---the tortilla espanola, chorizo con alubias (chorizo w/ sauteed cannellini beans and onions), piquillos con morcilla (red spanish peppers stuffed with morcilla- a sausage stuffed with pig’s blood, rice, onions and spices- popular in tapas, saffron rice, and manchego cheese), and the boquerones (white marinated Spanish anchovies). We added the following specials: fried shittake mushrooms with tomatoes and aioli(?) (described to us as a Spanish take on french fries) and a sliced duck dish.
The food came out very quickly- we toasted (him a beer, me a medium-bodied Tempranillo) and eagerly descended on the plates first brought before us. The tortilla was first. Though not normally a favorite of mine (it's a squishy, textural thing), I found this tortilla to be sufficiently firm, with thick, warm chunks of potato topped with a mayonnaise- a delicious and different comfort food. Whatever broth the onions, cannellini and chorizo was sauteed in (or maybe it was just the juices from the three ingredients?) was especially good for dipping the rolls which accompanied our meals. The broth was sour, but sour in a good way... it 'woke up' what could have been a bland dish and added a 'bright' flavor.
After finishing our respective apertifs, we ordered a pitcher of Las Ramblas' sparkling strawberry sangria to keep us fueled through the rest of the meal. The boquerones were next-wonderfully briney yet lemony and fresh (I think anchovies are generally underappreciated Stateside, and these were a treat). The shiitake mushrooms were also very good. I generally am not a fan of mushrooms in general--- too earthy and fungi-y for me, but fry them and I'm willing. The batter was light, and the aioli was the perfect, well, oily accompaniment! The piquillos were each placed atop a slice of bread and bursting with morcilla. With each bite, you could taste the assertiveness of the manchego cheese. I have to give credit to our waitress for highly recommending our last plate, the sliced duck. I'm not sure exactly how it was prepared but it was simply tasty.
Though at this point we, like the piquillos, were bursting at the seams, we pushed forward. I was adamant on ending our meal with cheese and roped my dining partner into ordering the plate (you can only have queso by the plate here), which included manchego reserva (aged 12 mo.), tetilla, mahon, and cabrales, and a small plate of tiny green olives. I was a little buzzed by this point, so honestly couldn't distinguish in detail between the tetilla and mahon, and the manchego was good (as usual). The flavor of the cabrales (a blue cheese) was very acute--- the first couple of bites were sharp and enjoyable, and after that, diminishing returns in the form of a saltiness which stuck in your mouth.
We ended the meal with a Grand Marnier Creme Brulee, accidentally brought to the table (he wanted the brulee from the start, and I the cheese- we thought we had settled on one, but the waitress did not catch that part of the conversation). We were fortunate for the mistake, because it was outstanding--- one of the best creme brulees I have ever had(!)--- so different from your typical Tahitian (ironic, isn't it?) vanilla. I couldn't do it justice by describing it here but recommend that you visit Las Ramblas to experience for yourself.
Overall, it was a delicious, casual and fun dining experience which merits a repeat visit.
I left so full I haven't had anything to eat yet today, and it's almost noon :O
170 West 4th St (btw. Cornelia & Jones)
Online at: http://www.lasramblasnyc.com/swf/index.swf