New York City has no shortage of good to great Spanish tapas restaurants, and El Quinto Pino which I had visited more than four years ago is one of those very good places where you see a thoughtful fusion of traditional and modern elements from the kitchen headed by the husband-wife duo of Alex Raij and Eder Montero. The restaurant, which had initially started with just a bar area, quickly expanded to include a separate dining room behind the bar and became a neighborhood favorite in Chelsea which has other solid Spanish options like Salinas, Tia Pol and Txikito (also owned by the couple). On a recent Saturday evening, after hanging around the High Line area with my wife Jun and a friend of ours, we decided to have a quick dinner at El Quinto Pino. We were not too hungry after sharing a fish and chips dish at a nearby outdoor bar at the High Line Hotel, and our friend doesn’t have a huge appetite in the first place, so we decided to share several plates with a bottle of red Spanish wine.
For starting a meal at El Quinto Pino, an assorted dish of chorizo and manchego cheese accompanied by house-made spreadable sausage and olive oil bread sticks (picos y taquitos) is the way to go. While the chorizo and the cheese could be slightly less harder in texture, they offer a salty flavor that is great for stipulating your appetite before you dig in to other dishes, which should not include creamy serrano ham croquettes that were just forgettable. On the other hand, if the Moorish spiced lamb skewers (pinchos morunos) are available, don’t hesitate to get them. While lamb meat is not for everyone, the kitchen superbly grilled for more or less perfect texture, and the added spice only helped make this dish easily one of my favorite of the night.
Another favorite dish from the meal was grilled squid with parmesan and black garlic (calamari a la plancha); it looked simple at first but the flavor combination was quite interesting and the squid’s smooth texture was also quite outstanding. Gambas al ajillo is one of those dishes people always get at a Spanish tapas restaurant, but do consider getting one at El Quinto Pino for sure; Jun and I loved the spicy kick from ginger and jalapeno broth that was a very pleasant departure from the typical oily garlic sauce that accompanies the shrimp. For dessert, even if you are already full with all the tapas, do try the delightful crema catalana, the classic Spanish dessert of cinnamon and lemon scented custard with cracked sugar crust on top that resembles the more well-known French equivalent crème brulee.
We didn’t have a reservation at the time we entered the restaurant but it was still early Sunday evening so we were able to get seated right away. Even if the dining space is small, the bar area with high stools is pretty open so you probably won’t need to secure a reservation in advance if you are OK with eating at the bar. ElQuinto Pino not surprisingly has a full bar based on the favorite drinks of Spain from wines to vermouth-based cocktails. Although the wine bottle that I had ordered was not our favorite (the server didn’t seem to understand what I meant when I said we were looking for a bold, full-bodied wine), the restaurant is really an ideal place to order some drinks that will go very well with the food. I am very glad to have visited El Quinto Pino (on a sad note, the famed sea urchin panini was not available for the night), and will certainly come back for an impromptu meal (or a scheduled one) while hanging out in the Chelsea neighborhood.
KenScale: 8.0/10 (Jun’s Score: 7.75/10)
- Creativity: 8.0/10
- Execution: 8.0/10
- Ingredients: 8.0/10
- Flavor: 8.5/10
- Texture: 8.5/10
- Value: 8.0/10
Address: 401 West 24th Street, New York, NY 10011
Telephone: (212) 206-6900