2004_09_food_chorizo.JPGOne morning, Gothamist received an urgent email from Rob, one of our fellow foodie friends: Last night . . . I had dinner with two friends of mine who are from Spain (both of whom like good food) and we were talking about places to go to get good Spanish food. They recommended this place as being the closest that they've found in New York to food in Spain, and that they go all the time because it 'makes them feel like they're back at home'. That's more than good enough for me. I say a pilgrimage is in order, and quickly.

So off we were to La Nacional, which, if you didn't know it was there, you'd walk right past. The only tip-off to its whereabouts is the Spanish flag hanging outside. And if you didn't know there was an authentic taste of Spain awaiting you, you might be turned off when you first walked in. We found ourselves in a room that looked somewhat like a bar set up in someone's basement, complete with an unused pool table lingering in the back, but the fact that the folks sitting in the bar area were intently focused on the soccer match and commenting to each other in Spanish, led us to believe that we were, indeed, in for a treat.

The New York Times review gives a bit of history:

La Nacional is the gathering spot for the venerable Spanish Benevolent Society, founded in 1868 to offer a familiar cultural environment for Spanish travelers and expatriates. The club sponsors concerts and flamenco performances and always has televisions tuned to Spanish soccer matches. And, of course, it has a bar, tables for cards and a small, rustic dining room, which serves tapas and a few main courses, including paella.

2004_09_food_tortillaesp.JPGNow although the review goes on to rave about the paella, we will have to save our opinions for the next visit, as we made a decision early on to stick to the tapas portion of a menu. But as Gothamist knows, it is fairly easy to make a meal of tapas, especially when they are as good and as reasonably priced as those at La Nacional. We opted for classics: Tortilla Española, which was one of the best Gothamist has ever had, with sweet onions balancing perfectly with the egg and potato; codfish croquettes, light and round, with a crispy outside covering the cod and hint of sweetness; and shrimp in garlic sauce, which we wouldn't let the waitress clear until we had sopped up all of the sauce with our bread. We also ordered the Plato Campero, a delicious sampler of manchego, chorizo, and serrano ham, with a few olives for good measure. The mushrooms with sherry, were our only disappointment; they were somewhat bland, and missing a richness of flavor that we'd tasted in other versions served elsewhere (note that this did not stop us from polishing them off). The sangria made up for it, however, as it was not too sweet and conveniently available in small or large pitchers.

A second pilgrimage, this time, paella-focused, is definitely in order, and Gothamist will be sure to brush up on our Spanish before we go.

La Nacional
239 W. 14th St., between 7th & 8th Aves.
Chelsea
(212) 243-9308