Perhaps the chef Dani Garcia and owner Yann de Rochefort (of Boqueria) had those flops in mind when they opened Manzanilla near Gramercy Park two months ago. Garcia has a Michelin two-star restaurant in his native Andalucía, but here he aims a lot lower, bargaining that Manhattan diners aren’t ready for his $150 tasting menu.
It’s a pity that chefs don’t feel they can bring their best work to New York, but that’s the world we live in. I can’t blame the chef for opening an unabashedly populist spot that will succeed, in lieu of a more ambitious one that probably wouldn’t.
Manzanilla, a close twin of one of Garcia’s restaurants in Southern Spain, styles itself a brasserie. It’s mid-priced by Manhattan standards, with snacks (7 items; $8–29), appetizers (8 items; $13–18), entrées (10 items; $26–40) and side dishes (3 items; $8).
You could put together a “tapas” meal from the snacks portion of the menu, but they’re not the focus; unlike most of the competition in New York, there are no paellas to be found. Most of the dishes, at least as described, come across as fairly tame, but in our small sample, they were all executed well.
Tomato Tartare ($8; above left) is as much of a pun as the chef will allow, but it bursts with robust flavor.
A foie gras terrine ($18; above right) is decorated with caramelized goat cheese, green apple purée, and raisins. It doesn’t bust any culinary boundaries, but foie gras junkies will go home happy. The chef gets no extra credit for burnt slices of toast (right), half of them with holes a baby’s hand could slip through.
I’ve less to say about Striped Bass ($27; above left). Suckling Pig ($34; above right) was one of the better renditions of a classic dish that I’ve had in a while.
There’s a bustling bar area up-front. The cocktails are terrific, although you might wait a while to get a bartender’s attention. The Spanish-heavy wine list is excellent for a new place. There aren’t many bargains, but there are many good selections to be had above $60.
In the early days, the kitchen at Manzanilla is operating at a high level, allowing for the limitations inherent in the format. The question with these types of places, is whether they can sustain that after the review period is over and the founder returns home to tend the rest of his empire.
Manzanilla (345 Park Avenue South at 26th Street, Gramercy)
Food: Classic Spanish cuisine, classic execution
Service: A shade on the slow side, but mostly very good
Ambiance: A bustling brasserie with a large bar and an open kitchen