Friday, November 19, 2010

To Brooklyn for some spanish food and wine

Last weekend, I ventured out to Brooklyn to hang out with my friend KS and her lovely husband CC. After a brief first stop at One Girl Cookies (more on that later), we made our way to Frankies to try to grab a table. We had decided our wait tolerance was 30 minutes; the kind manager informed us the wait would be approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes. Yikes! Off we went to Prime Meats around the corner to try our luck there. Two hours! Hooo boy. Down the block to Buttermilk Channel-- that would work, right? One hour 45 minutes! Welp, there we go. So we decided to check out Palo Cortado, a smart-looking wine bar that was only about half full at around 7:45 when we finally abandoned our search.

Palo Cortado is very, very new (only a few weeks old at this point), and it's like the new kid in school-- shiny, eager, and still getting used to its surroundings. The space is a nice brand of rustic-chic, but the setup is odd: there's a large bar dominating the room, a handful of two-tops lining the wall, and then two high communal tables for larger parties at the front of the room. The problem was that the communal tables only seat around 7 people, so it's really more of a two-party table... not quite communal, not quite private. A little odd.

Seating arrangements (and the fact that the front door didn't quite close, leaving us in the line of fire for chilly breezes the whole night) aside, we dove right into the menu. Our laid-back server gave us a 5-10 minute talk about the menu and the specials, clearly wanting to please but not quite in the swing of the game yet, if you know what I mean. We finally ordered some wine-- two glasses of a red on special for KS and CC; a glass of vina costera white blend for me. This was actually a delicious choice-- the wine was bright and snappy and very good with the food to come.

Bright and cheerful

Oh, and how about the food? This is a tapas bar, so we ordered a smattering. My own two choices were a dish of olives and a salad. The olives came as a mixture of mostly tiny little olives; they were tasty enough but seemed almost underdone, if that makes sense (a little too hard texture-wise, as if they hadn't cured long enough). Nonetheless, olives are always fun (especially when they have the occasional caperberry buried inside), and this went well with the wine.

Colorful and tiny

The salad was advertised as market greens with sherry braised onions, idiazabal cheese, almonds, and house vinaigrette. I can say that this salad was more certainly interesting than I had anticipated. The sherry-braised onions were sweet and silky and tasted almost like cherries; the large hunks of cheese were classically delicious, and their quantity was much appreciated. The only curious choice was the greens, which were rough-textured winter greens, much better for braising than for eating raw in a salad. On balance, the salad was tasty enough, if a little small for $8 (an ongoing theme of the meal, as you'll see).


KS and CC ordered a mixture of the hot and cold tapas. There were a few winners in there, including the goat cheese croquetas (they also sampled a bacalao croqueta, which wasn't quite as pleasing). The spiced lamb meatballs with mint cucumber yogurt were also celebrated, although they curiously came with only three skewers for four meatballs. Huh.

How can you not win with fried cheese?

Don't worry, one skewer was re-used

The not-quite winners included the poached shrimp in green sauce, which were a bit plain; the pan con tomate, which suffered from textural issues (the tomato topping didn't quite meld with the bread); the anchovies, which were definitely fresh but were a bit underseasoned; and the mushroom and potato tortilla, which was decent overall but lacked salt and had too much creme fraiche on top. In fact, underseasoning was a common complaint; while it's certainly better than over-salting food, a bit more oomph with the salt shaker in the kitchen could certainly elevate the flavors here.

Chorizo chips?

Not quite bruschetta

Little fish

This was probably the best value of the night

We had dessert waiting for us at home, so we passed on the dessert options and paid the bill. Palo Cortado is a tough nut to crack, review-wise. The space was welcoming and comfortable, if not physically (awkward high communal tables, gusty cold winds from the door) then emotionally (they seated us immediately and let us linger). The food had its highs (creative presentations, stewed onions, goat cheese croquets, delicious wine) and its lows (underseasoning). And, of course, it's not cheap. Our meal, with one drink each and eight very small tapas, was almost $100-- it's a good way to taste a lot of dishes, not stuff yourself on high-value food. I think Palo Cortado has lots of potential and is essentially just getting its sea legs. It's likeable, and if I'm ever in the neighborhood again, I'd certainly return; it earns its three Offset Spatulas heartily along with an encouraging thumbs up.

Palo Cortado
520 Court Street, Brooklyn

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