13 April 2006

Fear Strikes Out

Last week, I mustered up the courage to enter and dine at the spooky Spanish restaurant on the corner of 38th Street and 7th Avenue, the one which I mentioned in my earlier posting “Follow the Pushcarts.” It’s one of those Manhattan places that seemed caked with the dust of time and is so decrepit and unpeopled one wonders how it stays in business year after year. (The West 50s and older parts of the Village are filled with these sorts of places; usually they are either French or Spanish, eternal cuisines not effected by culinary trends).

What had I been afraid of?

Turns out, the joint is called The Spanish Taverna, a rather linguistically confused piece of nomenclature. It’s creepy character is actually confined to just the outside, which is made out to resemble a cantina. Once inside, things are demonstrably cleaner. The small bar area is peculiarly twilit, and the barflies even more peculiar. But a few feet past that, one finds the largish dining area as neat as a pin and not at all in disrepair, though the lighting remains dim and the décor, including several indifferent oil paintings, drab.

But the food! The Spanish Taverna turns out to be one of the great Spanish restaurants in the city, a hidden gem. The menu is deep with classic dishes that go beyond the expected Paella. Seafood reigns, so I decided to order in that direction. The waiter—officious, friendly and knowledgeable, a waiter who actually cared about what he’s doing—steered me toward a medley of seafood bathed in a “salsa versa,” a green sauce of garlic, wine and parsley. It arrived in a pewter pot and was ladled by the waiter into my bowl (Service!). Absolutely delicious, with the shrimp and scallops fresh and firm.

This was preceded by stuff mushrooms so tender they reminding me of garlic-sautéed escargot, and refreshing homemade sangria. If only I had gotten food like this when I was actually in Spain, benighted land of heavy, gluttonous meals served at ungodly late hours.

The place was fairly empty, just a few regulars. Such a relief from the more crowded places nearer to Times Square. It’s not ancient: the waiter said it had been there 30 years. Why they don’t wash down the front, I don’t know. But then, more people would know about it and it would be spoiled.

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