Entries in Pamplona (4)


Pamplona Closes

The Times reports that Alex Ureña has closed Pamplona.

The space has been home to two upscale Spanish restaurants over the last four years, both helmed by Chef Ureña. The eponymous Ureña, won two stars from Frank Bruni in early 2006, but the dowdy-looking space was at war with the three-star food the chef was trying to serve.

In 2007, after a brief makeover, it re-opened as Pamplona, slightly downscale in terms of both price and culinary ambition. It once again won two stars from Frank Bruni.

We loved the food at Ureña, but like most people, found the atmosphere lacking. We found the less-ambitious Pamplona still very good, though slightly undermined by the service. Perhaps like many diners, we never felt the need to return.

Despite two fairly positive Times reviews, the restaurant never gained traction in either of its incarnations. It wasn’t in a lively neighborhood, nor could it get much residential traffic on the dull commercial block it occupied.



The Payoff: Pamplona

Today, Frank Bruni awards two stars to Pamplona:

The publicity pitch and chatter that attended the transformation of the not-so-old restaurant Ureña into the not-exactly-new restaurant Pamplona boiled down to something like this: the chef Alex Ureña gets real…

Pamplona is Ureña with an attitude adjustment, and I emphasize the word adjustment. Mr. Ureña hasn’t wholly reinvented the restaurant or himself. He’s still interpreting Spanish cuisine, and — lucky for us — still indulging his fanciful impulses.

Bruni has never been a fan of fine dining, so I’m not surprised that chef Alex Ureña managed to hold onto two stars, despite dialing down the ambitions of the restaurant. Bruni’s two stars are consistent with my own impression, when I visited a couple of weeks ago.

The Eater oddsmakers are seldom off by much, but today’s review was an exception, with Eater actually offering better odds on zero stars than two. On our hypothetical $1 bets, New York Journal wins $5 at 5–1 odds, while Eater loses a dollar. And for the first time in quite a while, NYJ’s won–lost record has caught up with Eater’s.

          Eater        NYJ
Bankroll $60.50   $63.67
Gain/Loss –1.00   +5.00
Total $59.50   $68.67
 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Won–Lost 24–7   24–7

Rolling the Dice: Pamplona

Every week, we take our turn with Lady Luck on the BruniBetting odds as posted by Eater. Just for kicks, we track Eater’s bet too, and see who is better at guessing what the unpredictable Bruni will do. We track our sins with an imaginary $1 bet every week.

The Line: Tomorrow, Frank Bruni reviews Pamplona, the downmarket follow-up to the wonderful, but alas unsuccessful, Ureña. The Eater oddsmakers have set the action as follows (√√ denotes the Eater bet):

Zero Stars: 4-1
One Star: 2-1
Two Stars: 5-1
Three Stars: 50-1
Four Stars: 25,000-1

The Skinny: Bruni loved the food at Pamplona’s predecessor, Ureña, awarding two stars. Like almost everyone else, he hated the ambiance. I don’t have a photographic memory for décor, but when I visited it certainly seemed like the space had been spruced up a bit. Against that, the food is no longer as ambitious as it was, though it is still a cut above your run-of-the-mill tapas bar.

This situation will leave Señor Bruni in a quandary. If he awards two stars again, it implies that the dumbing down of the food doesn’t matter. But if he awards one star, he condemns Pamplona to the ratings never-never-land, for despite the nominal definition, one star never truly means good. This is one of those days when Bruni probably wishes he could award half-stars.

The Eater oddsmakers have concluded that a review at the low end of one star is a virtual certainty, offering just 2–1 odds on that outcome, and rating the chance of zero stars higher than two. I think Bruni will be truly torn between one and two stars here. He adored Ureña’s cooking the last time, and he is always rooting for earnest family-owned restaurants to succeed.

The Bet: We’re on the fence here, and wouldn’t mind if we were pulled away from blogging by an emergency phone call, which would spare us from having to place a bet. But place one we will, on two stars.



Note: Pamplona closed in October 2009.


When the restaurant Ureña opened last year, it quickly earned a place in the hearts of adoring foodies, but not, alas, their pocketbooks. Stuck on a drab block without much foot traffic, chef Alex Ureña closed earlier this year, re-opening after a brief makeover as the more downmarket Pamplona. Gone are the foams, the foie gras, and the degustation menu. A tapas menu and hearty comfort food replace them.

pamplona01a.jpg pamplona01b.jpg
Salt Cod Croquettes and Dates wrapped in Bacon (left); Confit Suckling Pig (right)

I started with a couple of tapas. Salt Cod Croquettes ($5) were were delicate and not at all heavy. Dates wrapped in Bacon ($4) offered a well judged mixture of sweet and savory. None of the tapas were over $6, and on a list of appetizers none were over $12.

pamplona02.jpgAmong the entrées ($18–24), I was intrigued by the “Hamburguesa,” evidently a hamburger made with beef and suckling pig.  However, there are several entrées for two, and we were drawn to the Cochinillo, or config suckling pig, a tender brick of braised pig at $35 for two—Ureña had offered a similar dish at $25 for one.

Like the rest of the menu, the wine list at Pamplona is fairly priced. I forgot what we paid for the wine pictured at right, but it was reasonable, and as it went well with our food, I thought I’d show the label. 

The restaurant was full on a Saturday night. Everything we tried was prepared to a high standard, but it is hearty, uncomplicated, and not likely to challenge diners very much. That just might be what Alex Ureña’s customers want right now. We’d rather see him succeed at something—even if it’s not the ambitious restaurant he had before.

Service was competent, but it felt a bit rushed. 

The décor at Ureña was much scoffed at. Even after the makeover, no one would call it a romantic spot, but the hard edges of the lighting seem to have been smoothed, and it is now a perfectly pleasant inexpensive restaurant.

Pamplona (37 E. 28th Street between Park & Madison Avenues, Gramercy)

Food: **
Service: *½
Ambiance: *½
Overall: **