My latest "Who Goes There?" column for Eater:
Who Goes There? Spanish Taverna
Spanish Taverna, which hides on a corner of W. 38th Street and Seventh Avneue, used to be a whole lot more anonymous, and forbidding, than it does now. The façade was dusty and unwelcoming. One looked at the place and wondered about its standing with the Health Department. Someone must have said something, however, because a new awning’s been installed in the last year of so. And a smaller sign over the door now reads “Spanish Tavern Restaurant,” a helpful nudge for those who couldn’t figure out what Taverna meant.
The inside, however, is as drab as ever. Tan, brown, yellow—the colors of the 1970s. There’s a nook of a bar up front, and an oddly airless, somewhat depressing dining area in back, with rows of booths on either side. A wealth of mirrors on the sides and in the back lends the illusion of space, as do the unusual plastic arcs which hang from the ceiling and partly divide one booth from the next. I’ve never seen this latter design feature in any other restaurant. It must have seemed terribly modern 34 years ago when Spanish Taverna opened.
Those who come here (Garment District workers, who like to haunt the bar; foreign tourists from Australia, Spain and elsewhere; a few elderly pre-theatre diners) seem to regard it as a hidden gem purveying some of the most authentic Spanish grub in the metropolis. Indeed, the food, while hellishly expensive (entrees range from $18 to $30; a glass of sangria is $8) is more than decent, and undeniably bountiful. I particularly like the mariscadas—various kinds of stew brought to the table in weathered pewter kettles. And everything is served with a dish of very nice, thinly slice fried potatoes. The menu may, in fact, be TOO authentic for some. One tourist quartet—including a woman all in white with Dolce & Gabanna eyeglasses on her face, and Dolce & Gabanna sunglasses perched on her head—were utterly stymied by the utter foreignness of the menu.
There may be another tourist danger here. The prices on the menu posted outside are a few dollars lower than the menu that’s handed to you inside. This may be an oversight. However, on one visit here an item I hadn’t ordered appeared on my bill. The staff was apologetic and corrected the bill. Though it felt suspicious, I let it go. But, the next time I came I noticed that the table next to me found an item they hadn’t ordered on their bill. Again, the staff was apologetic and amended the bill. I’m not saying—I’m just saying.
—Brooks of Sheffield
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