>> 11/28/12

174 First Avenue
New York, NY 10004
(212) 677-1030

I'm a glutton who loves variety. Stuffing my face with as many different dishes as possible before my stomach cries "no more" is a distinct pleasure. As such, I love small plates restaurants like tapas bars. They not only allow and encourage sharing many dishes, they basically require it. This time around, I went with Bro to Nai Tapas on First Avenue in the East Village.

On this particular night, Nai was relatively calm, though still lively. You don't get tapas and expect subdued hushed conversations. You expect sangria, people laughing, couples on dates, friends having fun. All for a reasonable price. Bro and I sat near these crowds as we BSed about whathaveyou and ordered a few rounds of drinks. A Spanish beer for me, a tempranillo for him. Everything at a tapas restaurant is effectively an appetizer, but most of the dishes at Nai are also available in larger entree size (or perhaps larger-group-of-friends size), should you be so inclined to want more food.

The dishes started coming out one at a time with just enough time between each so that you could finish, or at least put a good dent into, the previous one.  Spanish food is complicated with a lot of flavors competing for room on your tongue. The Pintxo de Chistorra con Huevo de Codornix was one such complex dish. Chorizo, piquillo pepper, and manchego cheese over toast and topped with a fried quail egg. The salt and the fat played well against each other, as did the texture difference between the crisp of the toast and the soft oozing of the egg. Unless you shy away from runny eggs, you're bound to enjoy this dish. The weakest of the plates that we ordered were the Esparragos Navarros, white asparagus drizzled with a pink tangy sauce. The asparagus was extremely soft. A sponge. I prefer my asparagus with a bit of crisp, but this was soft enough to be cut with a dirty look. The following plate made up for it though. The Empanadillas de Carne, classic street food beef empanadas. A crispy but not brittle crust filled piping hot spiced beef. It's almost the perfect winter food.

When the Mejillones Rellenos arrived at the table, I almost thought that they gave us the wrong food. But no. They're stuffed mussels with bechamel sauce that is then deep fried until it gets a thick crust. Inside this shell is the actual mussel shell along with boiling hot sauce. If you decide to pick it up an chomp down like it was a chicken nugget, you'll break your teeth and scald yourself pretty good. So let 'em cool. They're an acquired taste, for sure, at the very least given the texture if not the taste. I'm glad we got it to try, but I can't see myself ordering it a second time.  That said, the Pan Tumaca,  toast with tomato, manchego and a layer of Serrano ham, was fantastic. In Spain, this is technically a breakfast dish, but it works wonders here surrounded by empanadas and sangria.  The final dish was the Pulpo a la Gallega, Galician style octopus. Very tender, and perfectly spiced, but a little too oily. If only there was some soft bread alongside it, this paprika-laden seafood tapa would have been perfect. 

Our meal of six tapas and four drinks, plus tax and tip, came to about $85. Bro and I were too full to have dessert, but somehow managed to find our way to De Robertis' next door to pick up Italian pastries for the next evening.

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