Category Archives: Drinking

Paella, anyone?

Mother’s Day is fast approaching, and the normal anxiety of what to do for my dear mother is intensified because she always wants to go out for a simple, delicious paella.  She doesn’t want me to make one at home, rather she wants to be taken out be her two sons to a Spanish restaurant reminiscent of her trip to Spain many years ago.

New York City is home to many successful genres of ethnic cuisine.  Every one loves a great pasta joint, taco truck, or French brasserie.  Inexpensive Asian food has made a very successful transition to high-end gourmet preparation, and it seems that tapas can be found on many menus, Spanish theme not a requirement.

When I think about the available Spanish food in New York, I am usually underwhelmed. Why am I so disappointed?  Isn’t Spain the culinary center of the universe?  All those Michelin star restaurants like Arzak and Mugarritz, El Bulli and its modernist legacy, and El Celler de Can Roca, the #1 resto in the world.

I don’t long for linguine vongole from Rome, or steak tartare from Paris because I can find veritable versions here.  Perhaps authentic tacos are harder to find too, but Tex-Mex reigns in this town, and real tacos are slowly arriving.

Over the past five years, several Spanish restaurants have opened, and I have been excited every time, only to come home scratching my head, especially at what could have been.  With so many Spanish ingredients readily available to us in the U.S., and so many Spanish chefs wishing to make it here, what gives?

Recently I dined at Manzanilla, a sprawling restaurant managed by the people who brought us Boqueria and a known chef from Marbella.  Spanish menu.  Check.  Décor. Demi Check.  Wine list with sherry. Still improving. Spanish Chef in the kitchen.  Check.  So why on all the green grass on the Great Lawn does the food fail to impress? Where is the spirit I left in San Sebastian? Or Madrid for that matter?

When I planned to open Pata Negra in 2008, the most important part of the business model was sourcing quality product.  In 1990 I visited a tiny sliver of a bar in Barcelona whose name I have long forgotten.  I was impressed by its simplicity.  Good wine, cheese and the best jamon.  A cozy place that didn’t scream Spanish but evoked that vibe that was most discernibly La Patria.  Not only did the feeling stick with me for 18 years, but the quality of the product, and then of course the style of service, casual, friendly, yet professional, relaxed, and neighborly, well informed, and informative, learning through consuming, magical and simple all in one.

In 2008 the ban was lifted, thanks to Chef Jose Andres and successful lobbying, and true jamon iberico de bellota became legal to import. The cheese and wine had already been improving drastically compared to 1990.  No more waxy manchego, table Rioja, and jamon serrano.  Welcome pata negra, torta del casar, and mencia.

As for décor, garlic on the walls? Bulls? Flags?  No, the vibrations dictate the décor and mood.  Let the product and service do the talking.

Which brings me to the first point on why these restaurants have failed to hit the mark.  Product.  If you have ever been to Spain, the first thing that should have made an everlasting impression is the market.  The freshness and simplicity of the best sourced ingredients.  You walk into La Boqueria in Barcelona, or  the markets from Valencia to Madrid or Cadiz, and the product jumps out at you.  Proud vendors selling their wares as their reputation, forming relationships with their customers.  Oh, and the proof is in the arroz con leche.  You can have a bite in the market at the various kiosks in the market place, just to make sure those langoustines are up to snuff.

This is one reason why Essex Street market trumps Eataly.  Whether I stop at Anne Saxelby’s CheeseMonger shop, or Heritage Foods, I am dealing with small business owners who take pride in their work and foster relationships.  At Eataly, there is no relationship with the owners.  It is just a hyper supermarket sans soul.  Compare Eataly to the Mercat de San Anton in Chueca, Madrid, for example.  Compare rooftops.  No contest. A European market place extraordinaire is what it should have been modeled after.

I was fortunate enough to dine at El Bulli before it closed, and what jumped off the plate was not only the technique of the master chef, but the quality of the ingredients.  Upon further research (and reading from A Day at El Bulli), a major reason why El Bulli was so successful, had much to do with the product, which Chef Adria and his staff spent a painstaking amount of time acquiring for each and every service.  It is the same in any good Spanish restaurant, as well as any great tapas bar such as Cal Pep in Barcelona worthy of its name on the door.

What I find in Spanish restaurants in the New York City of today, is the classic restaurant dilemma.  How can we serve the masses and maintain quality by sourcing the best ingredients?  When tapas or Spanish dishes miss the mark, look to the pantry, and having worked with many Spanish chefs in New York City, corners are cut way too often.

The second problem facing a successful Spanish restaurant is technique.  It is obvious that modern cooking fathered in Spain and spearheaded by the master chef is inventive, intriguing and often delicious.  I feel Chef Adria tried to surprise the diner, create a playful relationship with food.  Some dishes were fun and forgetful, and others have lingered with me to this day.  So many chefs are applying modernist techniques in such a way as to forget about traditional good old-fashioned home cooking, taking the soul out of the food, and falling short of authenticity and ultimately pleasure.  This is partly why Romera closed, and why Chef Dani Garcia at Manzanilla has not hit his stride yet.  A play on pulpo a la gallega arrived to the table smoked in a box, very appealing until you bite into a tepidly temperatured octopus, potato and foam. The novelty of the technique failed to elevate the dish as memorable in a good way.  Back at home in Galicia, the ingredient would pop, so that a little love and attention produces great food, especially in the hands of such a talented chef as Dani has proven to be in Marbella.

I don’t mean to single out Manzanilla.  I could fill in the names of so many Spanish restaurants over the past ten years. It’s just that it is new and being reviewed by many critics now. Despite the corporate décor, which I tried to block out, I enjoyed several dishes there, but ultimately did not feel any closer to Spanish shores than Long Island.  Down on the Bowery at Cata, the people behind Alta have spent a pretty penny on making the place look old world Spanish, then throw a monkey wrench into the whole program with the most out of place, uncomfortable, red metal, cut off your circulation stools.  You can’t help but want to stand or leave.  An aggressive menu with several grilled items selected from a tapas case at the bar feels authentic, just short of a marisqueria.  I almost wish the marisqueria business model was singled out and followed through more thoroughly.  Cata is simply trying to cover all bases and do too much.  The concept is unfocused, the dishes are many, and Spain is lost in translation.

Part of this has to do with target audience.  I can’t count how many people pass through the door telling me their stories of their time in Spain, either studying or vacationing.  I get the feeling that the only thing they ate was croquetas, patatas bravas and paella.  After gently explaining to them that Spanish cuisine is much more than that, they look at me with perplexed visages if the veracity of their authentic Spanish experiences has been compromised.  And in a way it has, because pulpo should be eaten in Galicia, just as paella in Valencia, and not on the streets of Madrid.  A real pulpo a la gallega should only be made with Galician waters, which a real cook would carry across the Spanish terrain, if necessary, to ensure the right balance and flavor.

If Spanish restaurant owners and chefs want to showcase Spanish flavors, then they should do just that.  Not try to make money, be gimmicky, or trendy, or aim to receive three stars from the New York Times. One does not have to be a critic to know when a restaurant is trying to hard to be something it is not.   Too many people have been to Spain and have experienced Spanish flavors.  They can spot a place that looks cool but misses on flavor a mile away.  But in this town, often, if the restaurant gets the right press and is a place that a patron wants to be seen in, then the food is secondary and survives.  Who cares if you can’t get a proper tortilla in this town?  Well, I do, and I suspect others do too.

As for the old school New York establishments that serve watered down sangria, whose paella come out of pots without a smidgen of arroz bomba, smothering seafood in sauces and greasy fries dressed in ketchup/mayo, they are just as guilty as all those peddlers on the Gran Via trying to shovel the worst of what Spanish cuisine has to offer, their version of fast food.  Instead, isn’t it just easier to shop for the right stuff, cook the stuff with care, and be gracious throughout the whole process?

To Go Cup

On a brisk March Saturday morning I touched down in NOLA, a break from some long hours and nights at Pata Negra, a much needed short respite of food, wine, and song.

New Orleans is my go to destination for therapy, and I try to go at least once a year.  Part of the fun is researching where to eat and drink and what band to see.  Eater NOLA is a good source for new openings, and my native friend Brett fills in the real gems.  Despite my best planning, there is never quite enough time to do everything, and it is hard not to rely on old standbys like Parkway Tavern.

This trip was full of new discoveries, as New Orleans is not just the French Quarter.  It is a series of neighborhoods strung together by subtleties, according to topography and class, all tied to some force that is most certainly NOLA.

Touched down in Louis Armstrong Airport by 9 am and headed straight to Café Beignet for a fix.  Lunched at the Green Goddess and had an unusual Bloody Mary with kimchi.  The Vietnamese po’boy of shrimp and pork belly hit the spot, as well as the eggs.  Checked out a few cocktail spots before check-in at the Dauphine Hotel.  Sobou (trendy), St. Lawrence (divey), and blanking on others.

After a siesta, drinks at French 75 bar at Arnaud’s (always classy and great) with oysters and gougeres, and off to dinner at Boucherie, way out by cab in Jefferson Parish, resto set up in a quaint house with a porch. A Proper Pimm’s Cupp while waiting, and then some solid, bright cooking accompanied by a reasonably priced ’97 Stefano Barolo.  Highlight was definitely lamb ribs and lamb falafel.  Hospitality extraordinaire.  Off to Frenchman Street to the Spotted Cat.  Jazz Vipers were rocking it.  Frenchman Street was kickin’.

Sunday brunch by Magazine Street at La Fin du Monde, more bloody marys (a little thin, but good) and shrimp and grits (very good).  Caught the end of the Bulls game at The Bulldog (Mimi is a big fan) and then headed over to Luke’s for shrimp and oysters happy hour.  Siesta, and off to ROOT, a new resto with people who know what they are doing, from the front door to the table.  Best charcuterie I have had in ages, from face bacon to beef tongue to longanisa sausage on down, accompanied by pickled kumquats and meyer lemon compote, then followed by delicious rendition of aloo gobi with no sauce, but all the spice.  Duck heart salad, deviled eggs and shrimp, cornmeal crusted oysters  – I wish I had two stomachs. Washed down with a rose bottle of Beck NV.  Took two to go cups (just because you can), and then it was back to Frenchman Street to hear a new band, Big Easy Brawlers.  Lead was doing a great Busta Rhymes interpretation, lots of guests stopped in to play.  Abita all night.

Monday morning meant the Bywater, a new nabe for us, and tough to get to.  Lots of low houses with wild colors of purple and yellow.  You get the feeling real people live there and you are not quite sure how it’s gonna be when night falls.

The destination was The Joint, home to heavenly barbecue and pies and such.  What a dream brisket, pork rib, pulled pork combo. People’s BBQ joint for all sorts of people.

In an attempt to walk off the carnage, made several attempts to find art galleries, but all seemed closed or unavailable, so back to Bacchanal for a great wine experience.  Shop as in a regular store, order some cheese, and then sit outside the backyard and soak in some sun.  No mark up for the wine (unheard of in NY), and a riesling and red burg later, we moved on upstairs for cocktails.  Our bartender named a drink after me.  I forget what’s in it, but I saw her scribble the recipe in her notebook.  Forgive me, because five cocktails later it was tough to remember anything really.  Walked over to Maurepas for a bite, bold flavors and nice drinks, especially the shrimp hotpot, then double dipped over at Booty’s, street food from around the world done up, but the doomsday daiquiri finally put us out of our misery.

Tuesday lunch at Cochon, and we over-ordered (of course).  After all it was to be our last taste of NOLA.  Falling off bone pork ribs, roasted oysters in my favorite spicy sauce, oozing mac and cheese, fried alligator tots, rabbit livers with red pepper jelly, and some fine gumbo, washed down by nice half bottle of gruner and a pinot noir from New Zealand, with room for dessert, my fave, a pineapple upside down cake and chocolate pie.  Spent the rest of the time at Best Records, just grooving to bands new and old, stocking up on vinyl and t-shirts.  Alas there was a plane delay, and had I known, I would have spent my last moments at Parkway Tavern, but it was not meant to be.  I held on to my to go cup from ROOT.  Part cause I wish NYC had this open policy, and part because I wanna take NOLA in that cup back home with me.  Looking at that cup sure makes me smile.



EV Shuffle – HAPPY 5TH

Recently, Pata Negra had a five year anniversary.  It coincides closely with my own.  I thought about a celebratory party, but was so busy with business and life, I was just too tired to even plan it.  With some time to reflect on the birthday, I have come to realize a few things.

First, I am fortunate to have stayed in business for five years.  This is a statement of fact for several reasons.  New York City is ripe with people who work hard and open businesses every day.  In the restaurant industry, there are talented/celebrity chefs, savvy business people, and corporations with deep pockets who know how to play the game and survive in any economic climate.

Pata Negra opened in February 2008, and let’s just say that it was rough going for about three years.  As I look around me in the East Village, so many restaurants have come and gone, even long established ones with healthy reputations.  Pata Negra has survived real estate tax increases (+25% of the base rent), worker’s compensation fines (idiotic inspector/audit), unwarranted DOH fines, and stiff competition (Bar Veloce, Xunta now Nai,and Terroir to start).  When all the buzz is about David Chang or Motorino pizza or the populist Sarita’s Mac-n-Cheese, Pata Negra has survived despite these admittedly better business models for the demographic.

I am no celebrity chef, have no corporate backing, and certainly do not play/pay into the advertising game that exists (Yelp could blow up for all I care).  Frank Bruni has dined at Terroir and gave it a one star rating when he was chief critic for the New York Times.  The other night I saw him in the Duck’s Eatery (Leon’s replacement), two doors down from me.

I receive invitations to advertise weekly, from every deal site from GroupOn to Single Platform to you name it.  Every one of these firms claim they can get me more exposure on NY Magazine or Urbanspoon or whatever. And I am not even going to get into it about YELP.

My business is simple, Spanish Jamon, cheese, and wine, augmented by a few select tapas.  It is a European business model.  There is no paella (btw, there is no authentic paella in all of NY).  No croquetas or patatas bravas, in fact nothing fried (choice & kitchen limitation).  No take-out or delivery.  The point is to come in and experience Pata Negra, to be transported somewhere in Spain, with friendly, attentive service, great jamon y queso, and a nice glass of wine/sherry that I spend a lot of time and research choosing.

Pata Negra is not built for every one, every mood, or every occasion.  It is a civilized place for civilized people.  It functions pretty much the way I had envisioned it many, many years ago when I visited a bar in Barcelona just like it.

My staff and I are eager to please every one who steps through the door, and for 99% of those customers, we strive to make their experience memorable.  The other 1% may be rewarded with a sharp tongue from its owner, if they dare to post lies or refuse to follow house policies.  In these cases the customers are not always right.

I am still thinking of throwing a bash, with some artisanal beers and a pata negra jamon, but I would hate to leave any one of those who have supported me for so long out.  If you are reading this post, please forward me your e-mail address.

Pata Negra has made it through five topsy turvy years and to this I say, “Survival is the new success.”  The truth is that I wouldn’t have made it without the continuing patronage of many lovely, civilized people, friends and family who continue to visit and support Pata Negra, restoring faith in this project whose conception dates back to 1990, my first visit to Spain.  Of course, a huge thank you to my staff, some who have been with me through the whole ride, past and present, who allow me my jaunts to Europe, my siestas and wild moodswings, and my mom who minds the shop when I am ill.  Without them, I would be insane.


The following is a rambling of the landscape change within the last five years, just within a block or two of Pata Negra,  to illustrate how hard it is to stay open in an ever changing landscape and economy.

There has been a lot of movement on First Avenue in the East Village lately. Since I rented the space on 12th street just off of First Avenue, storefronts have been transforming before you can decide to pay a visit.  On the corner of 14th street, there was a bagel shop, and they shuttered for a long time until Hot & Crusty moved in.  Next door, Tepito, a Mexican cantina opened.  Tepito shut its doors last Sunday.  Vinny’s pizzeria has been around for ten years, but recently a dollar pizza shop and new next door 2 Bros Pizza shop are putting the squeeze on Vinny, prompting him to counter with a dollar slice special of his own.  Michael Bao ran out of town after his Bao BBQ never caught on.  I still remember my first and last visit.  He gave me a free bottle of Red Boat fish sauce.  Too bad.  Subway moved in and has stuck around.  On the corner of 11th, the deli has changed hands twice, and Starbucks is officially planted on 11th street.  Two Indian restos and a Filipino joint were run off the block on 13th st. so that Lebanese Balade, Papa John’s and Tallgrass organic burger joint could open.  Significantly, the Red Head moved in to the former Detours space and is still thriving.  Jeepney has just moved in, adding to Maharlinka further down First Ave.  Kumo sushi has replaced a short lived barbecue spot as well catering to NYU sensibilities and budget.  Around the east side of 13th street, Ichibantei has changed hands and now is offering reggae music, frosty mugged Sapporo and great kara age, out went the octopus balls and strange marble floor.  On 12th street, Sara’s Mac n Cheese took the space to my left for a bustling take out business, a busted massage parlor for take out, and Motorino moved into Una Pizza Napoletana.  Thai terminal has changed hands twice as well, and Ducks Eatery is in the defunct Leon space, and seems to be here to stay.  The corner deli is being transformed into a restaurant now, hopefully a good addition to the block.  Of course Hearth and Terroir are still there, doing quite well (I imagine).  Up the street from me Angelika Kitchen and John’s are holding court, although I recently saw a sign stating that John’s is serving vegan and gluten free food, also posting a picture of Guy Fieri in an effort to keep up with the times.  Not a good sign if you ask me.  Shima rounds out the block and the tavern opposite corner.  Bar Veloce consumed Bar Carerra and is now open almost all day.  Milk bar has moved across the street to make room for Booker and Dax, a trendy nitrogen bar.  Further down first avenue, Polonia closed, Lasso took over a failed project by Veloce people called Solex, Ugly Kitchen saddled up next door, 1st avenue Pierogi has redone itself, and three sandwich shops opened, Little Piggy, Joedough, and Whitmans (burgers technically).   I prefer Porchetta. Yogurt shops have closed four times, as no one seems to understand that yogurt just doesn’t sell in the winter. There are three hookah bars, and two middle eastern halal spots, supported by the Muslim community associated with the Mosque and cab drivers.  The one Dominican spot on 12th still shines, as well as the last remnants of Italian joints hold on, Veneiro;s, Lanza’s, etc. The tapas bar on 11th , Xunta,  has become Nai, and Iggy replaced the beloved pizzeria Rosa’s.  Momofuku is there, lines and all. I can’t quite recall what The Bean replaced, but that is probably a good thing, Tarelucci y Vino is now surrounded by coffe competition.  Café Abraco is my choice, after a stop at Xian’s famous foods or South Brooklyn pizza (my go to lunch spots).   Coyote Ugly and Cheap Shots are still serving NYU drunks until the wee hours, better bars like Lunasa and the Irish pubs off St. Mark’s thankfully still around.  The only wine shop on First, Tinto Fino, sells a great list of Spanish jewels.

There are other shops on First Ave., thrift, technical, fast food and otherwise.  Check them out for yourself.  Obviously I will not mention those chain corporation that have come to replace defunct storefronts, the ATM’s and chain pharmacies that are so prevalent because only they can afford the rising rents and real estate taxes, the reason why neighborhoods are fast becoming non-descript and mall-like.

SHOP EV 2013

Many people in New York are still on the long road to recovery in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.  Homes have yet to be rebuilt, and restaurants, once bustling, remain shuttered.  While critics and other food and wine sites are compiling their best of 2012 reviews, I would like to take this time to continue advocating for support for businesses that lost a lot and need all the help they can get to get back on their feet.

While there are obvious areas that need continuing support (Red Hook, Avenue C, etc.), I am making a case for the small sliver of a predominantly small business neighborhood, the East Village.  Many East Village businesses suffered damages and lost revenue, and are a long way from returning to normalcy, especially with cold and lonely January on the horizon.

There has been no tax relief, no insurance payouts, and FEMA has only offered loans.  A small business needs a loan like a real estate tax increase.

Here is a list of places, old and new, in random order, that I frequent and recommend.


Zum Schneider


Tinto Fino

Bob White’s Counter

Northern Spy

Amor y Amargo

Duck’s Eatery

Jules Bistro


The Mermaid Inn

Café Abraco


The Beagle

Black Iron Burger Shop

Bluebird Coffee


The Brindle Room

Café Cortadito

Angel’s Share

The New Bohemian

Japan Premium Beef



Rai Rai Ken

Kyo Ya

First Avenue Pierogi





Zabb Elee

South Brooklyn Pizza

Ukrainian EV Restaurant

Xi’an’s Famous Foods


I haven’t listed the shops which I frequent, but there are many boutiques where great bargains lay waiting for the patient.

Happy and Healthy 2013!

Oh Sherry,

Sherryfest is happening here in New York City this week, and before one can say that sherry has arrived, I might argue that it has always been here, albeit not commonly consumed or appreciated, but revered and sought increasingly by those who seek excellence in all their wines.

Sherryfest is an idea put into reality by Rosemary Grey and Peter Liem, two people who dared to dream that even if a select few drink sherry, they do so proudly, eschewing the common thought that sherry is cheap wine made in bulk, that a real renaissance is upon us, that sherry marries well with food, and can sit right up there with the most exquisite wines of the world.

Aside from putting together this Sherryfest, this gathering of great Spanish producers in the great international American city that is Gotham, Peter Liem, a Champagne aficionado and wine writer has inked Sherry, Manzanilla & Montilla, a comprehensive guide to the traditional wines of Andalusia, with Jesus Barquin, one of the dynamic duo that has brought us Equipo Navazos, flying winemakers who strike deals with bodegas to create special cuvees of top sherry, at the forefront that is currently the sherry revolution.

The Grand tasting was held at The Ace Hotel, coordinated by Carla Rzeszewski, whose passion for all things sherry is second to none, creating an electric atmosphere for tasting sherries from several top producers.  Present were twenty bodegas with a long tradition and history of winemaking who have persevered during a down time in Jerez, but continue to stay ahead of the curve and offer wines of purity and integrity.

Having spent a week back in late May this past year, I had the privilege of visiting several of these bodegas and producers, and it was so warm to see many old friends.  A cerebral gaze into the eyes of Lorenzo Garcia-Iglesias  A Californian high five with Steve Cook of Barbadillo, a gentleman’s handshake with Jan Petterson of Fernando de Castilla, topped only by a genuine hug from the lovely Ana Cabestrero of El Maestro Sierra.  I miss Dona Carmen too.

Absent were the wines from Equipo Navazos, who is in part responsible for raising the quality of sherry and garnering a tremendous amount of press of late.  It would have been nice to have seen Eduardo and Jesus, whose pride and knowledge of sherry is top notch.

The exhaustion of a long day of tasting was masked by the smiles of the winemakers and their representatives, such a large turnout for sherry overwhelming satisfying their efforts.

I would have stayed for the whole event, but had a few more errands to run at the Union Square farmer’s market to get the final ingredients for one of the scheduled Sherryfest producer dinners, one of which Pata Negra was hosting.  The reps from Barbadillo and Emilio Hidalgo arrived early, weary from the day thirsty for Mahou beer and Jamon.

Then the party kicked off at seven, sherry flowing, and pata negra glistening, magical, classic pairings anchoring a good old fashioned tapas fiesta.  Pimientos de Padron, Pata Negra bacon,  bacalao crudo, tortilla, morcilla, chorizo, gambas, croquetas, datiles, just to name a few dishes.  The Solear Manzanilla en Rama was my favorite, as well as the Villapanes Oloroso, La Panesa, and the Obispo Gascon Palo Cortado.

The night ended at The Beagle, a beacon for sherry selection often infused in their ingenious cocktail service, with event organizers, planners and staffers winding down with leftover bottles and delicious drinks.  Great hospitality from the new-look Beagle.  The East Village just gets yummier and yummier.

There are seminars scheduled for the next two days as well as other evening events.  There is still time to join on the fun and Get Flor’d.

What does this all mean?  For me Sherryfest is a good example of what happens when a group of people are passionate about something. Sitting outdoors at Gaspar Restaurant in Chipione on the beach, I recall a conversations with friends and industry people about bringing and promoting all the excitement of our trip to Jerez, Sanlucar, and Montilla back with us.  The night sky and moon in the background, the aroma of manzanilla in the air, bottle after bottle of Solear and shrimp and snails, pimientos and fried fish. I remember being pessimistic, speaking about advanced palates and educated consumers.  The truth is sherry is a wine to love, with pleasure on many levels from the quaffable to the profound.  The dream becomes a think tank, and forms collaborations and relationships to create awareness and celebrate it in a meaningful and fun way.  It shows that the preservation of tradition is paramount, and that by spreading the word to even a few, the seeds are planted and can grow without limits.  Just check out the number of restos offering sherry on wine lists now.

Get Flor’d.  Indeed.