Jules eats world.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Tapas with the Evil Overlord

Tia Pol

It had been awhile since I'd spent quality time with my pal the Evil Overlord (who recommends these tips), and with whom I've shared many delicious meals in the past. This time our quest was a tough one: find delicious food in an environment that would make us forget about the 100-degree day outside, cuisine that would help us overlook the sweat beading on our brows and pooling in our bellybuttons, refreshing drinks that would act as a cool breeze to soothe our cranky souls. Going for grub from a sunny clime seemed like a good bet, so we chose Tia Pol, a narrow slip of a tapas bar on a lonely block in far west Chelsea.

I'd read the restaurant gets packed, and indeed when I arrived around 6:30, people were already lining up for the handful of small tables at the back, none large enough to accomodate more than four people. As I waited for the EO, I continued on my summer rose kick and ordered a great one from Rioja. Refreshing drink: check.

Luckily the EO arrived and a couple of spaces opened at the bar, so we didn't wait longer than 15 minutes. Unfortunately, the seats were next to the door, which admitted blasts of sauna-like air along with each group that arrived. But with drinks gripped firmly in hand (the EO ordered a summery white sangria), and as small plates started arriving, it just didn't seem to matter.

The EO being the EO, he convinced me (ok, not with too much prodding) to eat something I usually avoid out of respect for Mr. H -- pork. In my defense, it was accompanied by something I never avoid -- chocolate. Atop sliced bread and itself topped by saffron threads, it was a rich little treat to begin the meal.

We followed it with piparras from the specials board, long green peppers with sea salt, their skins blistered by the grill. And I prompted the EO to try boquerones, marinated white anchovies garnished with chopped green olives and pine nuts. As is our wont when eating a delicious meal, the EO and I kept pausing, mouths half-full, to say, "This is really good."

For a second round, we had fava bean puree with cheese on toasted bread, which was satisfying and tasty if not exciting. The fried fish, in small pieces of what turned out to be mako shark, was crispy and salty. And the setas -- the Spanish version of oyster mushrooms -- were delectable, sliced thinly and dressed with a little olive oil, vinegar, and chopped tomatoes.

All throughout the meal we'd been eyeing the big jars of olives and marcona almonds sitting behind the bar. We didn't want a whole order, but when I told the bartender that the EO had never tried the marconas, she gave us a few to try. Salty and fried in oil, they were predictably delicious.

We couldn't stop there, so we opted for a sweet treat, the torta de santiago. It's a not-too-heavy almond cake, accompanied by a thick swirl of dulce de leche sauce and a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

By this time the crowd was pressing in behind us, so we vacated our seats and headed out into the oven. But, my belly filled with such good food, I strolled across town to meet Mr. H, immune to the heat and almost welcoming of the moisture that gathered at the small of my back.


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