Despaña: A Love Letter from Spain to NYC
Greetings from sunny, succulent Barcelona – the very best place to eat – ever. The food culture is simply amazing here. I had breakfast this morning (as we do every morning in Barcelona) at my friend Juanito Bayen’s counter in the Boqueria market – one of my favorite things to do in the world. The guide books know him as “Pinotxo” and Juanito’s biography suggests he is a figure no less essential to the ‘skyline’ of Barcelona than the Sagrada Familia…
In what other city would a food person be compared to the most famous monument around? I love this place. Only somewhere in which the ham was from a specimen so perfect that it ate only acorns and lived a prescribed distance from the water to exactly control its daily routine for maximum deliciousness… where white anchovies and other quintessentially revered treasures of the sea are handled with a level of care, precision and respect expected by none other than neurosurgeons… where tapas – a carefree moment of food and wine amongst friends and family – are a social activity; a way of life inherent to one’s everyday being that is deeply ingrained in culture…
I will have serious withdrawal when I return – in my esteem, the only way to cope with that innate need of Barcelona in New York is by stopping by Despaña on Broome and Lafayette. Despaña is foremost a distributor of the finest Spanish wines and treasured food products to New York’s most discerning (and well-known) Spanish restaurants like Tertulia, Txikito and Soccarat. They’ve also taken to the art of handcrafting artisanal Iberian charcuterie here in their Jackson Heights factory – think authentic spicy chorizo; decadent, rich morcilla and snappy, zesty txistorra – due in part to the historical import restrictions on fresh meats from abroad. Most excitingly though, they opened in 2006 a Soho retail boutique, café and wine store, which features simply prepared Spanish recipes showcasing Despaña’s unique selection of Spanish specialties.
Settle into Despaña’s long marble communal tables at the back of the store (one of NYC’s best-kept foodie secrets) and you’ll start to get a sense of the conviviality typical of a good Spanish tapas bar. You have the choice between a wide variety of typical tapas (the classic “tortilla”, thoughtfully selected olives, the wildly delicious tastes-nothing-like-a-typical-anchovy Spanish white variety called “boquerones” …), fantastic sandwiches and a couple of salads. Cured meats and fine cheeses (highly recommended) are also available on-demand in small tasting portions from the charcuterie up-front.
Personal recommendations include perfect wedges of Spanish omelets ($3.75-4.25) – choose from traditional, cheese, zucchini or chorizo varieties. The morcilla, Spain’s answer to France’s boudin or blood sausage, is a culinary masterpiece when cooked along with tomato pulp ($7): sublimely rich and flawlessly spiced. This is one of the few places which imports the prized white anchovies or boquerones – rightfully, when you have ingredients this good they should be simply presented as they are at Despaña in glistening strips of briny white flesh tasting of the ocean and of top-shelf olive oil in which they are marinated along with a hint of garlic ($6.25). In the sandwich department, Gallego ($8.50) is a clever combination of earthy Serrano ham, spicy chorizo and unctuous oozy arzua cheese as served hot off the panini press. The pescador ($8.50) brings together Spain’s amazing preserved bonito (baby tuna) with piquillo peppers and white anchovies.
If I can convince you to splurge, $25 will buy you the best, most decadent sandwich available in New York. In the same year Despana opened, Mark Bittman anointed the “flauta d’ibéric” at Viena (a nondescript café in Barcelona) as the best sandwich in the world. Folks, this is that sandwich. Simple, insanely good ingredients – only four of them. A good crusty baguette, tomato pulp rubbed on each side, top-quality Spanish olive oil and precious shards of the world’s best jamón (I can’t call it ham because it wouldn’t do it justice…). Intense, earthy, nutty, smooth, rich, lean, crunchy, chewy – this sandwich has got it all. A veritable moment of umami.
A small selection of beer and wine featuring Spanish classics Estrella Damm, Moritz… is now available in the tapas bar [I for one am glad to indulge on my favorite sparkling water, the blissfully effervescent Vichy Catalan ($2.50/$3.50)], but find a wine-lovers paradise next-door with an amazing variety of Spanish wines staffed with incredibly knowledgeable oenophiles to help you pick the perfect pairing. This is by far the best place to find the big names in Spanish wine – from Pesquera to Vega Sicilia, as well as a number of intriguing selections from smaller producers in up-and-coming regions (cava, the slightly effervescent txakoli and tart sidra from Basque Country, light summery rosés from Navarra, powerful reds from Ribera del Duero, mineralesque albariños from Rias Baixas, Sherry…)
Read more about Adam Gross’s Barcelona in a special feature coming soon to The Retropolitan Review’s Retrotravel.WHERE: Despaña SoHo: 408 Broome Street, Between Lafayette and Centre $10-25 per person (Ultimate value pick!) Rating: Supreme pleasure from the simple things – a foodie gem featuring the best ingredients from Spain in a modest and inviting environment
Honorable mentions in the specialty food store-cum-café category:
Foragers City Table Chelsea: 300 West 22nd Street, Between 8th and 9th $15-30 per person Rating: Standard-bearer / rising star for organic, fresh and creative new American cuisine in a relaxed setting
Eataly Flatiron: 200 Fifth Avenue, Between 23rd and 24th $15-50 and up per person Rating: A theme park for foodies featuring fresh produce, charcuterie, Italian imports and a strong selection of 10+ restaurants reminiscent of the famed European food halls
By: Adam Gross