My Mom told me about Pamplona, she has been there twice for dinner and suggested we have lunch there. What a find! Honestly, I found Pamplona to have the best Spanish food not only in the city but better than anywhere I ate in Barcelona last year. We had an incredible meal from start to finish. Also had a chance to meet Alex Urena, the chef, who couldn't be nicer and seems to be in awe with patrons beaming over him.
Pamplona is located in a strange location although a location that perhaps over time won't be so out of the way. 28th between Park and Madison. There a bunch of new apartment buildings cropping up, a huge condo opening over Madison Square Park and others have just opened. The atmosphere is very simple. Long bar, lots of tables, small to medium-sized restaurant.
We began with 2 tapas.. Pincho de Datiles. 3 pitted dates wrapped in bacon and roasted and served over an oval slice of thin crispy bread smeared with a creamy goat cheese. The dates were sweet and smoky at the same time. Not over powered with bacon just perfect. We also had Montado de Garbanzos y Guindillas. Three cubes of lightly fried mashed chick peas that were thick yet light and beyond tasty. Each was served with a spicy dollop of salsa on top and the place had a gindilla pepper emulsion underneath the fries. Delicious.
Then we had an appetizer and main course to split. Mejillones y Chorizo. Mussels steamed in saffron and and sauteed onions and tiny julienned pieces of chorizo. Great to be sopped up with a chunk of bread too. The best thing and most creative was Lasana de Txanguro, snow crab lasagna. A very thin piece of pasta, like an extra long lasagna piece about 8" long and 4" in across. He had taken half the pasta and then stuffed it with snow crab that reminded me of the fantastic blue sushi crab hand rolls we had in Echigo. Then he had taken the other half of the pasta and folded it back. So the crab was bulging out of the pasta. This sat on top of a puree of salsa verde. We both thought this was out of this world. At this point, I asked the waiter if there was a cookbook. We talked to the waiter for awhile about how fantastic the food was. Two minutes later, out comes the chef to meet us. What a treat.
Dessert was delicious and I believe Urena makes the desserts too. We had a chocolate almond tart with a small scoop of chocolate gelato on top. The tart had a very hard crust of chocolate on the bottom, shaped in a square and the mousse like filling was so sweet I thought there might be condensed milk in there. The gelato, all made on the premises, was rich and tasted like a hint of orange rind. Then they brought out two desserts on the house. One was a sorbet of star anise which was light and so tasty with a thin cranberry sauce underneath to dip into. The coup de grace was the churros. 3 long churros that were browned and coated with cinnamon and sugar that were light and melted in your mouth with a small pot of Varhonna chocolate to dip each in to.
I can hardly wait to go back. Not only did I enjoy the creativity of the food but the subtle flavors throughout. None of the flavors in the dishes overpowered the other flavors. Instead, the flavors complimented each other to create something incredibly tasty . For anyone who reads this blog knows that garlic is something I am not a huge fan of. Spanish food, at least in the states, is generally overpowered by garlic. If Urena uses garlic in his food, I would be surprised. I didn't taste a hint of it. Not afterwards or later in the day. He used Spanish spices to create the dishes like the Spaniards.
Urena studied in Barcelona and San Sebastian with some of the top chefs in the world today. He is from the Dominican Republic and he can't be a day over 30. A huge bravo. One of the best places I have discovered in a long time.