Today’s review is of La Nacional, a Spanish tapas bar/restaurant located on 239 West 14th Street. We were clued in about this place by Tasting Table. Indeed, the write up it received got us excited – “Homesick Spaniards have been flocking to La Nacional for camaraderie and tapas since the 1920s. Over the years, these expats have been joined by a mix of chefs and in-the-know diners for good reason: The city’s oldest Spanish restaurant is also one of its best.” Did we agree? No, not so much.
The inside is, interesting. The restaurant is located on the first floor of what feels like a walk-up apartment building; the second floor sounded like it was accommodating a studio for Latin dancing classes. Indeed, it was (there were flyers for Tango lessons and music could be heard). Tempted as I was, I stayed at sea level and entered the restaurant. A dimly lit, pool hall-ish pub type joint, with two rooms, wood tables, and a laid back atmosphere. No host or anything – just some old maps, eclectic ethnic art and iron work on the walls. There were twinkle lights in the windows, and checked linoleum floor in brown and black. Elana awaits in the adjoining room, looking excited.
Myself and Elana scour the menu. To get us going, we order a pitcher of Sangria and it is just fine. The offerings are quite extensive, but we settle on the following: Grilled Octopus (which became known as the Grilled ‘Pus after a few glasses of sangria), Croquettas, Veal and Beef Meatballs, and the Fried Artichokes.
The ‘Pus was just OK. It was hearty in portion, but was really nothing more than a bunch of sea meat, chopped up and drenched in hot sauce – perhaps to give its otherwise bland nature some taste. It was left unfinished, which, if I am at the table, is quite an indictment. Also just OK were the Fried Artichokes, which was disappointing to us. Fried artichokes get us excited. They can be so damn good… but in this case, there was an almost sour, canned taste to them. Again, these were left unfinished.
The Croquettas and Meatballs, however, were a different story. Both were pretty darn delicious. The Croquettas had a great crust, and some sort of mushroom/bechamel thing going on inside which was awesome. The Meatballs were cooked just right and the sauce was pretty darn delicious. A Spanish marinara of sorts, quite good. Both of these dishes were finished.
For an entree, we split an order of the Arroz Negro (paella): black rice (squid ink) with mussels, shrimp, and clams. This was probably the highlight of the meal. It was brought to the table in its cast iron pan, which continues to cook the paella and give portions of the rice a very nice crust at the bottom. Not a scrap was left over, as Elana and I diligently scraped the bottom of the pan to unearth all remnants of that awesome crust.
According to Elana, “the bathrooms were a little shady. They need an Xlerator® hand dryer. The antiquated version they had blew feebly at my hands making them (if possible) less dry.”
Overall, we were not blown away. But I suppose, like many restaurants, a familiarity with the menu could have lent itself to a more favorable experience (and review); since the plates were hot and cold; figuratively speaking.
Overall Experience – The Girl Next Door