Big, bold flavors perfectly executed. Fun and lively vibes. That’s what we took away from a recent visit to Tablao, a new Spanish-Mediterranean tapas and wine bar that opened at 86 Washington Street in SoNo back in May. In fact, we enjoyed it so much we can’t wait to go back to this hotspot again. What made it such a nice experience, exactly? Well, you’ll just need to read our review to find out.
First up is service.
Despite being busy with nearly every table taken and the bar area hopping, service was fast and friendly. Immediately, we were greeted by the manager of Tablao, Justin, who took us to our seats and made sure that we were comfortable. Very soon after that we had drinks in our hands, just the way we like it. Our server for most of the night (who also happened to be the owner of Tablao), Galo Aleman, was just as awesome and was passionate about every single detail of the menu. We obviously had to order a boat load of tapas and to our delight, they coursed them out perfectly, with only a few at a time and time in between each round. Ahhh, we love when that happens! Overall, we felt like everyone was treated like family when they were there, which is rare these days. And the best part? It didn’t seem like it was just us getting the special treatment—throughout the night, we saw Justin and Galo checking on tables and having long conversations with customers.
So, back to that wine . . . and some cocktails.
If you’re into drinking with your meal (and who isn’t?) or just wanna go out and let loose, Tablao is a great spot. For starters, the wine list has some great options, especially by the glass. When Kristien wasn’t sure which bolder red wine to try, our server not only had some pairing suggestions, but also brought over tastes of both so she could decide. In the end, Kristien went with the Marchigue Grand Reserve Carmanane from Chile that was bold, full, and had a nice peppery finish. Dan took on the cocktail menu and started with the Caipafruta. It’s like the caipirinha, but more amazing and more fruity. Passion fruit comes through so well adding an exotic tang. Also very drinkworthy was Charred, which had great balance, wasn’t too sweet, had a citrusy bite, and was a fun play of smoky and spicy. The drink had a smooth frothiness to it making it super easy to drink down.
Now how about ‘dem tapas?
The food, prepared by Chef Raul Gonzalez (who used to be the chef at Meson Galicia on Wall St.), showed some major skill. First up was the Chorizo Espanol, which came out hot with a gentle spicy bite. The beans added some great layers to the dish, helping to bring out contrasts of salty, sweet, and rich from the fig demi-glaze. We also dug deep into the Pulpo a la Gallega which was perfectly cooked and spiced nicely with paprika. The octopus was also served with potato, adding a nice starchy texture to balance it out. This took us back to our first day in Barcelona when Dan ate a similar dish for breakfast (yes, octopus for breakfast).
So, when we see pulpo on the menu, we always have to order . . . and the same is true of Brussels sprouts. These came out shaved thin on top of a crispy-crusted Fontina rice cake. As you forked into the cake, you could see it was super moist. Taking everything over the edge was the mixture of saltiness, with the richness of the parm, and the warm earthy punch from truffle. Another veggie dish on the menu is a must-order: Alcachofas. The bright punch from the cilantro and lemon mixed in nicely with the lightly crisped artichoke and the fatty finish of the ricotta salata. Rounding it all out was some jalapeno that added a little bit of heat.
Another great test of a Spanish restaurant is how they handle their calamari, so we went with an order of Calamares a la Plancha. First up, there was a great char on the squid, adding nice flavor. Yep, it was cooked just right. The spice level was gentle, just enough to complement the acidic fresh vinaigrette. And, finishing the small plates up, we went with a mixture of beef and chicken empanadas. Let’s just say that these bad boys had some of the crispiest crusts we’ve had before on an empanada. The filling was in a great contrast, being moist and not dried out like many that we’ve had at other restaurants. And, while the chicken was great and full of flavor, the beef was our favorite because of that richness the meat delivered.
And, the obligatory paella.
One of the most memorable meals we had in Barcelona was paella on the beach. It was made right outside in giant pans so it came out steaming hot. So, we have high expectations when it comes to this Spanish specialty. At Tablao, you have two options: Classic or Mediterranea de Mariscos. Our paella, the Classic, came out piping hot and featured a salty tomato forward sauce with some acidic bite coming through. The rice was served perfectly al dente, but, unfortunately, the shrimp was the same way. The other seafood (clam and mussels), though, were cooked just right, though. The thing that took this dish over the edge was the flavor contrast with the chicken and chorizo. Definitely one of the best paellas that we’ve had in a very long time.
We don’t really know where all the food that we eat disappears to, but we still had some room to test out the sweeter side of Tablao. Up first was the Tres Leches cake. It was moist and creamy, with a warm coconut taste coming through. The consistency was great, not mush like others can be. It was skating that fine line . . . and skating it so well. Kristien was all over the Chocolate Tart with Goat Cheese. It was the perfect balance of bitter richness from the dark chocolate and a creamy, tanginess from the goat cheese. She really couldn’t think of a better way to end the night.
And, before we could leave, we were brought out Madeira, a thick and heavy wine to finish the meal off with. It warmed us up plenty quick and had these inviting fig and almond flavors surrounding the liquor.
Tablao has a great mixture of classics as well as creative new spins on Spanish/Mediterranean favorites. There are so many amazing options it’s kind of overwhelming. Just looking through the menu again, we can easily come back 4x more before we finish other dishes like their charcuterie, mixed grill, croquettes, and meatballs. Aside from a few slightly overcooked shrimp in the paella, everything we tasted was top-notch from the tapas to the drinks. So that is why we’ll most definitely be back soon.
Disclaimer: Although we were invited to try the food at Tablao, our opinions, feelings, words and tasting notes are our own.
86 Washington Street