Just a half a block from home is the site of a restaurant. Now, in the 7+ years we’ve lived on this block this is now the fourth restaurant to occupy the space. The first three were parrillas of one sort or another, the only one I ever reviewed was Evaristo. It was decent and we were sorry to see it go. Then it was a short-lived spot that I’m not sure I ever even got the name, followed by one called Santa Tecla (which I referred to as “Our Lady of the Keyboard” – spanish speaking folk will get that). And then, just over two months ago, after being closed and boarded up for almost a year, it suddenly reopened, festooned with Spanish flags, as El Burladero, still at Uriburu 1488, just off the corner of Peña. A burladero is that big wooden shield thing off to the side in a bullring where the matador heads when he’s really pissed off the bull and needs to get behind something to take cover – a refuge, as it were. And perhaps, for me, a refuge from the recent spate of high end places that are all about the frou-frou and molecular touches – this is just solid, traditional cooking of the highest quality.
In the last week and a half I’ve been there three times, twice solo and once with Henry and a friend. First off, I love that you can sit at the bar and eat, especially when you’re solo. I miss that – there are so few places here where you can, and that was my favorite way to dine solo in NYC. There are also some communal counter-style tables surrounding some pillars in the bar area, go figure, communal seating in BA?! And, some folk are taking to it like ducks to water. Some aren’t. The first night I was there a couple in their 40s came in and that was the only place for them. They loudly complained about being forced to sit with desconocidos for about ten minutes, at which point two seats opened up at the bar, unfortunately next to me, because they continued the vocalization of their discontent. Get over it. Either go somewhere else or wait in the waiting area for a table to open up – better yet, next time, make a reservation instead of showing up in the middle of dinner hour.
So many places here refuse to bring anything to the table until you’ve ordered your meal. Here, before I even got the menu I had a basket of excellent breads, particularly the flatbread, a dish of spiced and herbed olives, a small shot of gazpacho, and a half-glass of hard cider from the tap. Again, that’s all before I got the menu.
The place is a bit pricey, no question – the idea being that the plates are big enough to share for 2-3 people, and you can try several dishes. The bartender, when I expressed that I’d like to try several things immediately let me know that a large percentage of the menu items, particularly the tapas selection, are available in half portions. Started off with a half portion of calamares en su tinta, or squid in its own ink – one of the best versions of this dish I can remember ever having. We also tried it again when I was there with Henry and Wayne and it was still excellent, though perhaps that second time the calamari were just very slightly overcooked – not to the point of being rubbery, but just over the edge past completely tender.
The kitchen apparently missed that the gambas en ajillo, large prawns in a garlic sauce, was supposed to be a half portion. But these were so good I ate them all anyway, and the bartender very nicely made sure that the bill only reflected a half portion. Again, one of the better versions of this dish I’ve had.
On my trio night we ordered a half portion of the bacalao fritters, but I forgot to grab a photo before we’d dug in and almost finished them off. The half portion had eight delicious little nuggets with a really nice, mildly spicy sauce.
On my first solo night, having figured on having two half appetizers, I ordered a full plate of my main course, rabbit in cider sauce. The bartender tried to talk me out of it, saying it would be too much, but I so rarely have rabbit I wanted to go for it – turns out a full portion is a half of a rabbit, so he was right, even if I hadn’t have gotten the full sized second appetizer. But wow was it good – finished all the rabbit and about half the papas bravas in their aioli and spicy pepper sauces.
Here’s the only mis-step, and it wasn’t the food itself. See, on the night I returned with Henry and Wayne, we wanted to sample through a bunch of different things – so we’d already shared half portions of the three appetizers above – and we were moving on to share a couple of main courses in series. So we ordered a portion of the daily special (which turns out to be on the menu all the time, it was just what this particular bartender, a different one from my first visit, decided to push). On his own, the bartender decided to order us two full portions to share among the three of us – which meant two things – one, we had enough food that we didn’t end up ordering another main course to share, and two, the cochinillo, or suckling pig, turned out to be a chart topper in the price department – coming in at 170 pesos per plate – so he just upped our tab by a pretty whopping amount there. We didn’t know that was the price when it was served and just let the two portions slide – it wasn’t until we got the bill and the sticker shock of our main course running us 340 pesos – that we found out. We should have said something, but, we’d already eaten it, and marked it down to being more clear on any future visits (plus, preferring the other bartender). That said, excellent suckling pig, really excellent. The more plain potatoes with just some garlic and parsley were less interesting than the papas bravas that accompany the rabbit – but, I think you can actually select your choice from the list of accompaniments if you want to.
On that second visit a couple sitting down the bar from us got this plate of eggs, ham and potatoes and were oohing and aahing over it. I thought it would be a great brunch dish from the looks of it, so yesterday, popped over on my own to sample it for lunch. The huevos estrellados con jamón de jabugo were, well, hmmm…. They were tasty. But the dish is way too heavy on plain fried potatoes, with just two eggs fried in olive oil and a few slices of this cured ham – and coming in at 94 pesos for the plate. I realize jabugo is one of Spain’s most expensive cured hams, but that’s just too much, especially for a plate that’s about 90% potato. Cut the amount of potatoes in half, give me three eggs and a few more slices of ham and maybe… but at that price, while tasty, rather expensive.
So, overall. Well, hell, I’ve been back three times in a week or so – Highly recommended – and expect to find me there on many an evening with a plate of one or another tapa and a glass or two of hard cider from the tap (another big plus – icy cold and delicious).