Archive for the ‘The Girl Next Door’ Category

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


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Our adventure this evening begins in Jersey City, NJ, in search of the Hamilton Inn.

Elana: Where is this place (as we are driving somewhere in its general direction)?

John: It’s at the corner of here and up (emphatic hand gesture to indicate both directionals).

Elana: I see…

The Hamilton Inn has a charming corner location at  10th avenue and Jersey Avenue in downtown Jersey City’s historic neighborhood of Hamilton Park ).  It looks like a bistro (complete with outdoor seating) with a Brooklyn hipster flair. The interior is has horizontal, modern wood paneling accented by wall décor that consists of large blackboards displaying the various menus, an arrangement of mirrors at the entryway and a collection of vintage vases, tins and ephemera.

We arrived at around 7:30-8pm. Even given the dinner hour, it was sparsely populated, so we were quickly seated and began perusing the extensive cocktail & drinks menu. While the Hamilton Inn is a restaurant, it is also a bar (a rather nice one with those handy hooks under the bar for hanging your purse and jacket). The cocktail menu features many infusions, muddled ingredients (like berries) and bitters. Something like what you might find on the Lower East Side of NYC at a place like Allen & Dellancy or Freeman’s.

I began with a Honey Mojito, while John ordered the Austin Mule. The Mule was definitely the standout: the ginger beer was sparkly and light and not too sweet. Mine was a bit on the sweet side, but I like that so I wasn’t complaining. It had lots of fresh mint and lime juice to balance the sweetness, however.

To start us off, they brought a small dish of bread with a ricotta and parmesan spread and some olive oil. The cheese spread was delicious with hints of lemon and a smooth, light texture.

On to the apps: fried calamari and perogies. A word about John and I and calamari: we are extremely critical of it. The calamari must be perfectly done, without a hint of rubberyness. The batter should be light, crunchy (never soggy) and perfectly seasoned. And the marinara sauce….well, it needs to be perfect. Fresh and light, not sweet . And we like lemon wedges on the side, please. The Hamilton Inn’s fried calamari hit the mark on all counts. The only complaint I had was that it didn’t include the tentacle  pieces. I like those.

As for the perogies , John summed it up best when he said, “Not a huge amount of taste.”

For the entrees, I ordered the Ferry St. Paella (get the full name from website) and John requested the special Filet Mignon Risotto.

With chorizo, lobster, shrimp, and clams, my paella was the standout entrée of the evening’s choices. The rice was perfectly cooked and the chorizo gave the whole dish a delicately smoky flavor. So much so that john could not stop sticking his fork in my plate.

The risotto was a bit more generic. “It’s risotto,” commented John, while it was tasty, it was nothing too special for flavorful. “I’ll eat it for lunch tomorrow.”

Now onto dessert. There are only two offerings for dessert at the Hammy Inn: Tiramisu and Key Lime Pie. We went for the Tiramisu, because like with fried calamari, we tend to be very picky about our Tiramisu. My first comment was, “WHERE’S THE RUM?!” In my mind, Tiramisu neeeeeeeeeds rum. And more than the few tablespoons that is usually requested by recipes for this desert.  Not that I am trying to get tipsy off my deserts, but it really does add something. Notably flavor. There was good espresso action, however I strongly suspect that the whipped cream on the side of the plate was Redi Whip. But it was tasty (ish) and we ate the whole thing anyway.

A note about bathrooms. John and I have decided that for every restaurant we review, we will also review their respective loos. We think it’s important to have a well maintained lavatory. We also think it’s funny. We may start a bathroom of the month club.  Anyway, the Hammy’s ladies and men’s rooms were very nicely kept. We even have pics! Nice white, gleaming subway tiles, new appliances. And also storage for baby highchairs (hey, you gotta put them somewhere). No points for extremely nice smelling soaps, but the mirrors were large and the lighting was good. And no extra amenities like toothpicks or hand lotion, or tissues.

All in all, the Hamilton Inn is a success, both in food and ambiance. The modern/eclectic look would be right at home in Brooklyn or parts of New York City. And while certain dishes were great, others were not. . Not every dish we ordered was a winner, but we are eager to go back and try a few more. Drinks too (half price on Wednesdays!!)

Overall Movie Equivalent: The Girl Next Door – The Predictable Surprise

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