For the uninitiated or geographically challenged, Catalonia is an autonomous community in Spain over on the far northeast corner of the country. They’ve got their own Catalan language (even their own sign language), one of the biggest and well-known cities in the world (Barcelona), and their own traditional recipes. Recently, there’s been an aggressive push from Catalonia to renew their centuries old pursuit of independence from Spain, an idea both catalyzed and trying to be stopped because of Europe’s economic crisis. Since there’s nothing we can do about that here, why not enjoy some tried-and-true Catalan dining in New York City?
Catalan dining is deeply rooted in Mediterranean cuisine and utilizes distinct preparations involving fresh veggies and fruits, high-quality meats, cheeses, seafood, and olive oil. No matter where it’s enjoyed, the culinary mainstays of Catalan dining are pork (pernil) and cheese (formatge). The pork is often crafted into sausages and cured with various spices, or aged carefully for long periods of time. The number of traditional cheeses are dwindling with the modern world, but it’s still possible to find unique Catalan cheeses using cow, goat, and sheep milk for a variety of palette-pleasing tastes.
So why are Catalan restaurants in New York so hot right now? Because tapas are still all the rage, and they give Spanish chefs a blank canvas for creativity that’s about as big as Catalonia itself.
Boqueria (Flatiron): 53 West 19th Street, NYC 10011
Boqueria (Soho): 171 Spring Street, NYC 10012
In New York City, the best known Catalan restaurant is Boqueria with two locations in the Flatiron and Soho districts. Inspired by the tapas bars in the Boqueria Market stalls in Barcelona, the restaurant aims to recreate the Catalan dining experience with similar recipes and atmosphere. Like the best tapas joints, they offer up a lunatical and very creative amount of options to share that includes fried quail eggs, baby squid, and lamb meatballs. I’m a personal fan of the sautéed spinach garnished with raisins since I’ve yet to figure out how to cook it myself (pro tip: it’s more than just dumping a box of Sun-Maid in). They do an excellent array of sandwiches, including one with pickled anchovy, fresh apples, and goat cheese, and offer brunch options for the weekend. Cured hams, sausages, and cheeses can also be bought separately. Zagat applauds the place as “Barcelona in Manhattan”, and unless Catalonia invades New York City someday, that description will remain high praise.
And if you ever find yourself elsewhere in the world, there are two more Boqueria locations in Washington, DC and Hong Kong.
Casa Mono: 52 Irving Pl. (17th St.), NYC 10003
Bar Jamon: Literally right next door
Another highly acclaimed site for Catalan dining is Casa Mono and its annex Bar Jamon, which literally translates to “ham bar”. Both opened with the help of chef superstar Mario Batali, which essentially ensures their success and high price point. The sites offer different takes on traditional cuisine with Casa Mono handling the more traditional dishes and Bar Jamon focusing on drinks and tapas. High marks go to Casa Mono for its razor clams dish, savory foie gras, and excellent selection of Spanish-born wines. Although not nearly as authentic as Boqueria, it is another delectable option.
For the more NYC-savvy folks reading and wondering why Mercat wasn’t mentioned, that would be because it’s no longer with us. Trying to go to it’s webpage brings up a strange Japanese site that, when translated by Google, uses the word “circumcision” a few times more than a bris would.
Featured image via boquerianyc.com