While I was sitting out on a bench on Grand and Mulberry
playing candy crush answering emails, a woman approached me to ask directions to Little Italy. All I had to do is point to the street 10 feet from us and say “this is it”. She followed with a disappointed “This is it?”, and I followed with the third “This is it”, with the facial expression of a “sorry you made it all the way to NY from Singapore for this”. I spared her the clarification that she is technically inside Little Italy already even though it looks more like a Chinatown.
But you know, for someone who spends a lot of time poopooing Little Italy, I spend a lot of time on it. The reason is twofold. There’s ironically a wealth of great dining surrounding it. And Little Italy is, maybe even more ironically, one of the best passeggiatas in NYC. I do enjoy walking around on Mulberry after a meal saying Ciao to the community of restaurant salesman and selfie sticks, and watching people from all over the world dress up for no good reason. But there’s one restaurant on Mulberry that did get my attention this time and that is Gelso & Grand. Buzzy with no salesman, checkered tablecloth, and not even an accordion player. Gelso means Mulberry in Italian (its on the corner of Grant hence the name), Ziggy’s favorite Granita flavor. There, now you know more about me.
Tomiño Taberna Gallega which opened in Little Italy (technically. Its on Grand, not on Gelso) a few years ago, is far removed from the usual checkered, red sauce neighbors. Its a smart, elegant Spanish offering some of the most authentic Galician this side of, well, Tomiño. A statement not so far fetched once you look at a map. And it got the Cojones to to call itself Tomiño Taberna Gallega. A three word monster is as close as it gets to a slamdunk. Lets break down the other potential names shall we. One word, Tomiño – Cute, trendy sounding, but pressure is still on to deliver. Two words, Tomiño Taberna – Pass. Three words, Tomiño Taberna Gallega – Strong, ethnic, if something doesnt taste right its probably due to cultural differences sounding.
The owners of Tomiño also own the popular Trattoria Trecolori in the theater district. Which is surprising considering this ambitious Galician menu designed by Lucía Freitas, one of the leading chefs in Galicia. Our waiter tried to explain the owner’s Galician connection, but besides the noise I was too fixated on the tables next to us. One table over was dipping their Chorizo in the “sauce” at the bottom of the plate which was the Orujo, the Galician liquor that helped flambeed the meat on arrival. Another table opted not to touch their Empanadillas until they were the same temperature as their Cava. I’m talking a good 40 minutes here.
And yes, those Empanadillas with tuna were quite good and need to be eaten immediately. So was the homey Huevos Roto Con Zorza, a nice breakfasty blend of spiced pork, fried potatoes and egg that grows on you with every bite. It feels almost criminal to order this instead of the more popular Tortilla de Betanzos, a hefty potato omelet with a runny egg in the middle, but I wasnt feeling it. Next time.
The Paprika dusted Galician style Pulpo is famous throughout Spain, but not very easy to find in NY. Here its called by the actual name, Pulpo a Feira, and its as tender and satisfying as they get. No complaints about the Arroz Negro topped with a well cooked Snapper, except maybe its missing the oomph and complexity of what you’ll find at a Tia Pol for example. But I can still taste the prized red prawns, Carabineros, and the sweet Langoustines.
The salads here should not be discounted. In North Spain, you can eat simply prepared tomatoes and tuna, but rarely together like the Ensalata San Simon which also comes with figs, pickled onion and apple cider vinaigrette that ties everything together. Even better however is the mushroom salad, Parrillada de Setas. Not often in NYC you get a combo of Enoki, King Oyster, Maitake, with goat cheese, garlic and honey. A sweet and addictive medley. And I dont normally get excited about almond cake, but the Tarta de Santiago deserves its own pilgrimage. This is a major go!
Tomiño Taberna Gallega
192 Grand St (Mulberry/Mott), Little Italy
Rating: 2.5 Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Empanadillas, Huevos Roto Con Zorza, Pulpo, Carabineros/Langoustines, Ensalata San Simon, Parrillada de Setas