Friday, December 12, 2008

The Rain In Spain

Despite my still-undefined illness and the cold rain, I did manage to keep up appearances last night at Bar Jamon. Had I not made plans in advance, I would have taken the opportunity to watch Grey's Anatomy over takeout. But my daily goal usually includes leaving my apartment once during the day. So mission accomplished.

Bar Jamon, essentially a more casual version of Casa Mono, with which it shares a wall, features small plates from Spain. Their wine list is more than extensive; it's encyclopedic. I'm not sure there's a more expansive Spanish wine list in New York City.

Like Otto, another of Mario Batali's hot spots, Bar Jamon sells wine by the quartino (more than a glass, less than half a bottle), making experimentation a very real possibility. We started with an old standby of mine, the Vega Sindoa 'El Chaparral' Garnacha from Navarra.

With that Garnacha, we snacked on many, many small plates. Pan con tomate is a Bar Jamon signature dish--crusty pieces of bread doused with tomato and garlic. A lomo (air dried pork loin) and roasted shitake mushroom plate came garnished with a fistful of my favorite salad green, arugula. The duck liver--billed simply as duck liver with apricots--was actually much more. The liver had been prepared au torchon and had the consistency of that other liver. You know, the ethically questionable one with the high fat content and creamy texture? Apricots were reconstituted dried specimens accented by mustard seeds. I could eat this every day for the rest of my life.

Cauliflower with salsa verde was simple and sublime in its simplicity: roasted cauliflower, caper-tomato vinaigrette. The dish was devoid of pork and, consequently, guilt. A slow-cooked and fried egg served over toasted bread had been listed as "Soft Egg Ramesco," but the romesco was actually part of the frisee salad on the side of the plate. The dish was lovely enough, though the egg could have seen a minute less in the pot.

Our tiny quail escabeche--a method similar to ceviche in which a marinade of acid cooks the meat--came with feet intact. It was a lovely touch, though I prefer my quail hot and crisp-skinned. The bird had nice flavor, however, and came atop ribboned greens and dried apricots and over some kind of fruit vinegar reduction, which I couldn't stop myself from dipping extra bread in.

When our plates had been cleared, we were still hungry, so we ordered the Coach Farm piquillo, an ample piquillo pepper stuffed with the iconic goat cheese, as well as the Serrano ham. The Serrano was smoky and just fatty enough, although it could have benefitted from that David Chang's red eye gravy that should be mandatory with all ham plates nationwide.

For dessert, churros with chocolate and cream sherry. The churros were a bit too cold but the chocolate was hot and spicy, made more authentic with the addition of some detectable chili. Two churros for one cup of chocolate was not nearly enough and we resorted to dipping our extra slices of bread in the cup to sop up those final hot gulps.

If you can get a seat--and at Bar Jamon the true challenge is getting a seat--you can do some serious damage here. My final missive? Can New York please be done with the backless stools already? It's killing my posture.

Bar Jamon
125 E. 17th Street
New York, NY 10003

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