Of all the hype blasting from all the big-name restaurants that opened simultaneously in the Hudson Yards mega-mall nearly two months ago, the most exciting news of all was the arrival of the expansive food hall Mercado Little Spain, the first ever New York City operation from superstar chef and humanitarian José Andrés, along with his creative collaborators Ferran and Albert Adrià, the brothers behind El Bulli.
Only thing is, Mercado Little Spain didn't really open back then. Not all of it, anyway. And though Andrés has been slowly been rolling out all 15 different areas within his 35,000-square-foot Spanish food wonderland, it was only last week that the biggest, most accessible sit-down restaurant in the market, called Spanish Diner, finally started serving meals every day (breakfast and lunch, for now). So I parked myself on 30th Street and 10th Avenue for a good chunk of the weekend, eating my way through as much of the wide-ranging menu as possible.
The first thing to know about Spanish Diner is that you can enter directly from the street like any normal NYC restaurant, no need to step foot in the gleaming mall above. You don't even have to mess around with the often-chaotic but fun scene at Mercado Little Spain to eat here. Although it shares a commissary kitchen (and a bathroom) with everything else, and the menu borrows freely from various counters and kiosks inside, for the customer Spanish Diner effectively operates as a separate entity.
The restaurant itself is huge, with seating for well over 100 at comfortably-spaced tables, a trio of circular banquettes, a row of stools at the bar, and two converted foosball tables (which are clearly meant for kids). The Mercado's flower shop is cleverly located right near Spanish Diner's front desk, so a cascade of blossoms greets you along with your friendly, efficient hosts. The staff's warmth and eagerness to help extends to everyone working here, and the service is all very high-end feeling, though the restaurant itself is anything but.
Breakfast is served from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m., and it is a glorious thing to behold. There are lots of egg-based dishes, stews and tortillas, tons of sausages and hams, and a whole page devoted to various fresh-baked breads and pastries. The best thing I ate all weekend was possibly the platter of Huevos Rotos, or runny fried eggs set upon on a pile of excellent french fries, encircled by thin slices of chewy Jamón ibérico. I also added a juicy, first-rate Pork Sausage, and I suggest you do the same.
Or was the best thing I ate the Torrija? It's possible: this lovely little brick of "Spanish Style French Toast" is crisp with a sugar-cinnamon on the outside, and a creamy, almost custard-like interior. No syrup necessary, just a drizzle of honey. Also very good was the High Life egg, ham, and cheese sandwich, the runny yolk seen through a hole in the top slice of bread. The Callos a la Madrileña is, according to the menu, a thick "Madrid-style tripe stew" with chickpeas, some supremely funky chorizo, and bits of blood sausage in a lively tomato sauce. I thought it was delicious, but offal-phobes should definitely avoid.
Some of these dishes can also be found on the Spanish Diner's lunch menu (most notably those Huevos Rotos, though that may change), which kicks in at 11 a.m and runs until 3 p.m. There are plenty of dishes here you don't often come across in NYC, like the preserved mussels on potato chips with Espinaler sauce, and Salmorejo Cordobés, a dense chilled tomato soup with hard-boiled eggs and tiny cubes of pork shoulder.
Various cheese and ham platters are also available, as are salads, more stews, sandwiches (the bikini pressed ham and mahón cheese, topped with honey, was perfect), and a whole section of hearty Spanish comfort food called La Concina de la Abuela. From this latter category I wolfed down three plump Canelones, pasta stuffed with a formidable mixture of ground chicken, pork, and duck liver, then baked with both béchamel sauce and cheese. It was a bit much for a meal before noon, but it was extremely good.
For dessert there's ice cream, churros, goat cheesecake, cookies, and puddings, but flan fans need to look no further than the dish called "Pijama, Restaurant les 7 Portes, Barcelona, 1951." This elaborately-named homage stars Andrés's flan with whipped cream, vanilla ice cream, and a preserved peach providing able complements. It's all great, and I'll definitely be back when they finally start the Spanish Diner dinner service in a couple of weeks.
Spanish Diner is located at 10 Hudson Yards, with a entrance on West 30th Street just west of 10th Avenue. You can enter through the mall (follow the signs to 10 Hudson Yards), and also via Mercado Little Spain, if you prefer. (littlespain.com)