Spanish cuisine is enjoying a resurgence in New York, with newcomer Tertuila as perhaps the most successful example this fall. After two mediocre meals there (which I have not yet written about), I was eager to have another data point.
Enter Salinas, with chef Luis Bollo, whose much-admired Soho restaurant Meigas (which I never visited), closed in 2008, a victim of the Great Recession. Bollo decamped to Connecticut for a few years, waiting for the opportunity to return to Manhattan, which he did in July of this year. The Times didn’t review Salinas, but The Post’s Steve Cuozzo filed a rave, and Esquire’s John Mariani pronounced it one of the best new restaurants in America in 2011. New York’s Adam Platt had (predictably) the least reliable review, giving it two stars for the food, but minus one (for a total of one) for “ the pokey, vaguely suburban surroundings.”
I wonder which suburbs have restaurants like this? There’s a small bar up front, leading to two dining rooms with exposed brick and bare, dark-wood tables. The back room has a retractable roof, now closed for the season. Chairs and banquettes are in an understated, plush soft blue.
The menu is in four sections: tapas ($7–20), starters ($11–19), entrées ($24–44), and side dishes ($8–9). In most of those categories, there’s one or two items much more expensive than the others. For instance, all of the entrées are below $30, except for the porcella (roast suckling pig), which is $44.
The menu doesn’t really encourage you to build a meal from tapas alone, as there are only nine of them, several of which are just breads and charcuterie. But all the dishes we had, even the main courses, lent themselves to sharing.
Coles e Coliflor ($9; above left) is a dish that could convert even Brussels sprouts and cauliflower skeptics. They’re served deep fried, with citrus zest, mint yogurt, and pimentón de la vera, the spicy Spanish paprika that polka dots the top edge of the plate. (A second comped plate of this was sent out later.)
We also liked the Chorizo special ($14; above right), sliced thin, with a runny quail egg on top. Puncture the egg, and you have a late breakfast.
A short ribs special ($29; above left) was rather pedestrian. Served on the bone, it was a generic short rib entrée that you’ll find all over town. Pollo Otoñal ($26; above right) was considerably better, a grilled local organic chicken in a Granja bean and green onion sauce, Swiss chard, baby carrots, garlic, and lemon emulsion.
The room is dark, and on the loud side when it fills up. Service was fine once we were seated, but the hostess insisted I wait at the bar until my guest arrived. The sense they’re trying to attract a scene, rather than build a following, slightly undermines the accomplished cooking.
Salinas (136 Ninth Avenue between 18th & 19th Streets, Chelsea)