City Pulse

By Eudie Pak

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Because I had such a pleasant dining experience at Ostia, I was looking forward to checking out Tasca to see how it measured up. Oh, but my fine fellows, little did I know where my curious appetite was taking me…

Walking into the dim-lit venue, I was greeted by a bum-diddy-bum-bum of hot clubbin beats and perfectly coiffed servers dressed in ominous black. As I began to look around at all the beautiful characters lounging about, nibbling and tittle-tattling in cosmopolitan style, I couldn’t help but fear that my most unfashionable puffy coat was betraying me as the ebony version of the Michelin Man.

But before I could receive a ribbon for being on the Worst Coat List, my eyes caught the gorgeous winding road of chromatic tiles that led me to my little table. For those of you who may not be well-acquainted with Spanish modern art, the tiles – as well as the rest of the dynamic interior design of Tasca – pay homage to all things Gaudi. (I wonder if the phallic lights that hang above the bar…well…with such buoyant masculinity were also Gaudi-inspired or are just merely a reflection of my drrrty mind.)

The two head honchos of the place, Executive Chef Craig Wilson and General Manager Robert Meller, were like characters taken out from Goodfellas. They already knew that I had done a review on Ostia, and when I asked them what made Tasca different from its neighbor from down the way, the two machismos swaggeringly retorted: “Simple. We have better food, better décor, and better-looking bartenders.” (Uhhh, alrighty then).

Chef-Man asked me what I thought of the food at Ostia, but by the tone of his voice and the sneer on his face, it was more like he was subliminally saying: “Yo, punk, you betta tell me what I wanna hear.” As I rubbed down the Oompa Loompas popping off my skin and courageously told him that I enjoyed the fare there, I was given the look of death. (Can anybody say pre-empted sucka-punch?)

Anywho-age…let’s get on with it.

The Tapas
The dishes and presentation are meant to be authentic Spanish cuisine with a NYC twist. I think Robert said the food was ‘a little sexier than your ordinary tapas.’

Round One: Starch and the Sea
1) Bombas – fried mashed potato balls with a side of aoli
Comment: The subtle sweetness of the potatoes coupled perfectly with the garlic cream made me want to ah-coo-coo-racha.
2) Croqueta Brandade – creamy salt cod with a side of orange aoli
Comment: The nicely cooked cod and the orange citrus cream made for a delectable combo.
3) Saffron Spaggatini – clams and shrimp on a bed of pasta
Comment: Clams were very tender, the shrimps were plump and juicy, and the pasta sauce was a perfect spicy – not an ‘I-need-a-glass-of-milk spicy.’

Round Two: More of the Sea Mingled with Meat
1) Costilla fuego lento – sangria-braised short ribs and sweet potato bread pudding
Comment: The tender rib, soaked in sangria sauce, fell off the bone with ease, and the sweet potato pudding made me go back to my Southern roots…but this is a bit too heavy if you’re thinking of light portions.
2) Paella Valenciana – chicken, chorizo, mussels, shrimp, clams
Comment: It’s a smaller portion than what you might normally be accustomed to, but it’s a fish-and-meat eater’s paradise. You get lots of bang for your buck with this one.
3) Pulpo Gallega – grilled octopus, arugula, and olive oil
Comment: The normal blandness of chewy octopus was saved by the zing of the arugula.

Finale: Dessert
Chocolate molten cake with pistachio ice cream and wild berry fruit sauce
Comment: The heat of the molten cake contrasted with the cool raspberries and the nutty flavor of pistachio ice cream made me go into mini-convulsions of sugar ecstasy.

Drinks
I got to test out the red and white sangrias.
The red sangria was ‘harder’ than the one at Ostia and had a citrus tang to it. The white sangria, which I absolutely loved, had a very light, refreshing taste. Kinda like vitamin water with a kick of alcohol. The kiwi, grapes, and green apples gave it a little twist, too.

In vino matters, Tasca has quite a selection: 10 reds and seven whites by the glass. In total, there are 40 wines to choose from ($90 or less by the bottle) and growing.

Conclusion
Tasca and Ostia are two very different restaurants in terms of atmosphere. The former has loud music, modern décor, and a club buzz about it. The latter has a relaxed, slower vibe and stays truer to traditional Spanish roots. However, when it comes to the palate, Tasca wins it for me.

If you can deal with Tasca’s slight air of pretension, then you should go. The excellence and variety of food are worth it.

Tasca is located on 130 Seventh Avenue South. You can check out the menu on www.menupages.com. And by the by, the restaurant serves brunch on weekends.

Originally published March 2007
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