Submitted By Simon Hardy Butler, January 21, 2017-2:22 pm
Every neighborhood needs a reliable tapas spot.
These small plates, a hallmark of Spanish cuisine, often serve to illustrate the excitement and interest value of a particular area, so eateries offering them frequently are revered in the areas they grace. Such is the case with Las Tapas, a surprisingly decent restaurant in sleepy Hudson Heights that may well be hidden to anyone who doesn’t inhabit any part of Fort Washington Avenue, given its location on a quiet block mostly known for the understated presence of its longtime corner drug store. Weekends at the restaurant see personable, polite crowds try for a piece of the hopping bar scene, though other days may be less busy—and then, you can really get an idea of the decor: an informal room in done up in muted hues, with carving boards charmingly adorning one of the walls and the others showcasing prints of wine openers and similar paraphernalia. Nearby, a curious stone structure reminiscent of a flattened, less-grandiose version of the Step Pyramid rises beside you in columns … comfort yourself with the fact that design has not gone ignored here, and though it might not be the most gorgeous destination in town, it certainly makes itself welcome.
You feel welcome as well, owing in part to the dish of garlicky olives that’s set down right after you sit at your informally cloth-free table. Nibbling on them might incite you to order one of the intriguing adult beverages on offer, including myriad sangrias—some sweet, some dry—and cocktails: among them a “Russian” Margarita with refreshing cucumber-infused vodka and salt; and a tropical, slightly silly coconut Mojito. Yet it’s the provisioner’s namesake munchie that this site is known most for, and in general, the quality is high. A tuna tartare, for example, arrives in a pretty little stack that’s chock-full of sesame character and dusted with seeds, though the fish is a little dry. Meanwhile, the gambas al ajillo pops with garlic and tomato; while the shrimp is somewhat overcooked, its crustaceany flavor shines through. A standout is the yuca brava, which substitutes crisp nuggets of the tuber for the usual potato; almost as palatable is the huevo endiablado, succulent poached eggs accompanied by thick, well-seasoned hollandaise sauce and weirdly addictive chips of crunchy ham.
Nice job, Las Tapas. Major props.
To management’s credit, the entrees are almost as successful as the appies—in particular the rather charming paella marina, which, if you order with chorizo, is delivered in an accommodating bowl filled with sticky, subtly saffroned rice, neutral mussels and clams, and squid that should have more personality, along with tidbits of the aromatic sausage. Not too shabby, though if the chicken portabello is being offered, that might be an even better choice, as the tender fowl is soothed by a creamy sauce and enhanced by mellow mushrooms. See the moral? Never discount the entrees … even at a tapas joint. You’re almost certain to be surprised.
Not too many surprises from a dessert standpoint, though the dense crema Catalan is spiced with cinnamon and vanilla and features an appropriately brittle sugar crust on top. There are churros, too, and the fried cylinders are perfectly OK, sweet and satisfying, yet not memorable. The prices, however, are: Some small plates are less than 10 bucks each, while the mains are generally in the teens and low twenties. Service is gregarious; you may want to come again. But that’s the idea, right? You always do.
At least when it comes to a reliable local tapas spot. Heaven knows when we’ll see another one like this.