On Thursday night I met my friend Becker on the expansive sidewalk outside of a busting Chelsea restaurant, Tia Pol. A well-lauded Spanish tapas establishment, its name immediately jumped to mind when deciding where we should eat - in part through Luisa's recent inspiration, but I have also eaten there once before and knew that in this protracted work week (one that screamed for recompense in the form of good food) Tia Pol would not disappoint.
Becker and I stood perched in the narrow space between the bar and the brick-studded wall – it is a small restaurant, a long snaking hallway studded with tall tables and a semi-open kitchen to the side – and sipped some Rioja (chosen from their all Spanish wine list) as we waited for a table. The room was dimly lit yet colorful with movement and laughter. We could hardly hear ourselves speak through the din of happy diners.
We were brought to sit, a half hour later, at a small table nestled against the brick siding, across from the kitchen. A highly set window carved into the wall gave the view to an “open" kitchen and throughout the meal I watched a bobbing mop of dark hair and blue and white polka-dotted bandana that belonged, I could only assume, to one of the chefs. Every so often steaming plates of food would pop up onto the window’s ledge, to be quickly whisked off by a waiter or waitress. Alexandra Raij, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, and her husband, Eder Montero, who once worked for Ferran Adria in Barcelona, man the kitchen - a job that they found advertised on craigslist - and now produce Iberian-inspired tapas with high quality ingredients to a constantly flowing crowd.
The service of our own (handsome) waiter was friendly and attentive – a list of specials was spouted glibly, and Becker and I were left to the difficult decision of what to order.
We began with a plate of roasted green peppers – small and posed for one-bite-consumption by holding their dangly long stems - they were browned with heat and covered in olive oil and salt. There were the aceitunas tia pol - black empeltres, manzanillas, arbequinas: bowl of assorted olives, a mottled variation on browns and greens. And pinchos morunos - skewers of succulent pieces of lamb, their flavorful juices absorbed by thick slices of French bread into which they were stuck. The taquitos de atun relleno de boquerones was beautifully plated - a little row of geometrically aligned color - chilled slices of seared tuna, stuffed with marinated white anchovies and topped with what looked like a tiny dollop of olive paste, perhaps, and two small slices of red and green pepper. With concentration we could taste the anchovy – the peppers were overwhelmed by their salt however, and, we thought, could have used some spiciness to round out the flavors.
My favorite, by far, was the chorizo con chocolate – small slices of white bread laden with a melted swipe of thick bittersweet chocolate. Spicy, rich chorizo (a Spanish sausage) was balanced above, topped with a sprinkling of saffron. The flavors combined so surprisingly well that Becker and I had a moment of silence in order to concentrate fully on taste. To top it off we split a warm almond cake – sweet, nutty, and moist.
In the end I was, to say the least, very full. But very happy. And already planning what I will eat the next time around…