The evolution of Spanish cuisine in New York City is fascinating to me. To be completely honest, I’m not quite sure if what I’m eating is authentic or not; all I am aware of is the flavor of the food and how it compares to other restaurants which I have tried in the past. Case in point: I’ve probably partaken in more than five paella tastings across New York City. (I admit I’m a sucker for this dish) At this point, I can tell you which paellas I enjoy the most, but I would have no idea which one is the most authentic. Oh well, even though I desire the real thing, I’ve had more than my share of delicious Americanized Chinese and Italian food so I’ll make due with our version of Spanish food for now. This issue of authenticity came up recently when thinking about my outstanding restaurant week dinner at Bar Basque. I believe that the food I ate was authentic Basque cuisine, but if not then I’m tempted to say: who cares? If the food is as good as this, then I might be willing to ignore the ethical issues. Is this wrong? Am I being a bad food critic? Decide for yourself!
839 6th avenue between 28th and 29th street
New York, NY
4.5 stars out of 5 stars
First thing’s first: Bar Basque has ambiance for days. Seriously, maybe it’s the labyrinth like maze one must follow to find it in the heart of the Eventi hotel, or the crazy funky lights, or the projection screens showing different movies, or maybe the play list which sounds like dance remixes of hip-hop and top 40 tracks. There’s no question: even before the food arrives, the mood is set. It also helps that my waiter was very knowledgeable and answered all of my silly food critic questions with ease. And then there was the food:
What I ate:
Croquettes: these are a must order, every single time. Thanks to restaurant week, I was able to order a delicious sampler of their four varieties: ham, cheese, mushroom, and pig. Normally, however, you can only order one flavor at a time. In that case, go with the mushroom croquettes: these tiny savory morsels were jam packed with flavor and a complex combination of subtle spices. That being said, all of the croquettes were great, but I was surprised that they were smaller than the traditional ones I’m used to ordering in Spanish restaurants.
Wild mushroom soup with porchini cappuccino: this dense and creamy soup layered many flavors together and was quite tasty. Another stand out item with a unique twist, the wild mushroom soup did not disappoint and I was impressed with Bar Basque’s version. The cappuccino foam on top made for an interesting taste; I rather enjoyed this novelty. However, if you have to pick just one appetizer, I would stick with the outstanding croquettes.
Seared yellow fin tuna ala “marmitako” with a Basque style potato stew: I had no idea what I was getting myself into with this dish, but I decided to be adventurous. This decision paid off handsomely: it was definitely my favorite dish and I was blown away by how original the flavors were. The marmitako sauce is apparently a Basque creation made by cooking together peppers, onions, tomatoes, ham, and bacon. My mind was trying to process this information and I was thinking that this would be a tasty sauce, but things got even better when I learned that the marmitako sauce does not contain pieces of any of its ingredients. My plate contained several chunks of tuna cooked to the correct level of doneness, a few pieces of creamy potato, and this incredibly thick and succulent creation of Marmitako sauce. Each bite brought an outstanding array of flavors to my taste buds, in other words: you must order this!
Banana mousse with vanilla rum sorbet and mint anglaise: I was pretty full by the time dessert arrived, but having a lifelong sweet tooth I decided to suffer through. I was happy with the dessert; while it didn’t particularly impress me I certainly enjoyed it. However, after a meal of this stature, all I needed at that point was some fresh air and a long walk to digest all of the awesome food.
For those of us who can’t afford to go to the Basque region, it is my belief that a meal at Bar Basque is the closest thing you can find to the original in New York City. Is it pricy? Of course, this is a pricy town and in a swanky hotel this is what you come to expect. Restaurant week provided me with a great opportunity to try this food at a more reasonable value and it is a great choice when these deals are offered in the winter and summer. For a taste of the Basque country or for any special occasion, you will be very happy dining at Bar Basque.