A Year In Food

From New York to Costa Rica to Europe to California: 365 Days of Dining Out

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Jul. 16.


Tia Pol and Patatas

Fava Bean Puree and Pork Loin

Jamón and Torta

Dinner -

Tia Pol - 205 10th Ave., Chelsea
Patatas bravas; fried chickpeas; fava bean puree; pork loin sandwich with piquillo and manchego; jamón serrano with artichoke and manchego; Bleu cheese croquettes; chorizo with chocolate; almond torta with ice cream and dulce de leche; two glasses of Cava
$44

Critics love referring to the sophomore slump. They throw the term around so lightly, it almost seems like a given. Novelists falling short of their meteoric debuts. Musicians failing to sell as many records the second time around. Restaurateurs squandering the goodwill of their flagship. In an age of deafening hype and Everest expectations, it’s harder and harder to create a sequel as well-received as the original.

Still, my inaugural visit to Tia Pol was so good I simply had to go back. Since my experience there (see Dinner, Apr. 3), I had been raving to friends about the best tapas in New York. I longed to have another taste of the patatas bravas or the clashing wonder of the chorizo and chocolate. Right away, I built up the restaurant to epic proportions (which is especially ironic since tapas bars are all about being informal and easygoing).

So my friend Steve and I met in far west Chelsea at seven, to beat the later Saturday rush. We sat in two of the tall chairs in the back of the room, caught up on our summers' progress and studied our laminated menus. Seeing some of my long-missed choices felt like being at a family reunion. “We have to start with the patatas and the chickpeas,” I said, making it more a declaration than a suggestion. In that first round, we also got a pork loin sandwich and a fava bean puree.

The patatas was still tangily terrific, with their drizzle of aioli, and the chickpeas were just as addictive a snack as before. Both went extremely well with my glass of Cava, a nice departure from my usual pick of sangria or a Spanish red. The fava bean puree and the pork loin sandwich were also both good, with the puree being the better of the two. A lime-green spread on a hunk of bread, it was salty, earthy and cheesy, making it a great plate to share over drinks. The pork loin sandwich which came with piquillo, a hot red pepper, and manchego was tasty but lacked the ingenuity of Tia Pol’s standouts. Also hurting both the puree and the pork was the bread, which was hard and took effort to chew. Both would have benefited from a more unique and fresher bread selection.

For our second round, we had artichoke and manchego wrapped in jamón serrano, Bleu cheese croquettes, and the chorizo and chocolate. Steve lamented his choice of the ham, and I had to agree with him on this one. It was way too salty and we literally had trouble locating the artichoke in the pink folds of the pork. But the croquettes were so magnificent they made up for the disappointment immediately. From the tender crunch of the thin fried outside to the gooey, warm cheese inside, this dish was a revelation. Even more intruigingly, the filling of the croquette changes every day, but I can’t imagine anything fitting better than the Bleu cheese. Finally, the chorizo and chocolate once again provided the spicy and the sweet, the oily and the smooth, in a definitive proof that opposites do attract.

After all of this food, Steve and I proceeded to dessert. We both had the almond torta, which came with vanilla ice cream and dulce de leche. Like the hazelnut cake I tried last time, it was delightfully subtle and far less sweet than other desserts. The arcs of dulce de leche added some caramel sugariness and the slightly melted ice cream gave the dry cake a needed moistness. All in all, it was the thoughtfulness and the confidence of the dish that made it work beautifully, like most of the tapas at Tia Pol. Although not everything was as near-perfect as my last visit, my second dinner still provided a great deal of pleasure. Even after I held it in such impossible esteem, Tia Pol not only avoided falling into the sophomore slump but proved it was still at the top of its class. 8/10

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