Submitted By Simon Hardy Butler, April 1, 2017-2:23 pm
Never has the tavern been accused of being a dying breed, yet in some areas this type of eatery is rare … and examples of it are cherished, perhaps, more fervently than a horde of treasure is coveted by a dragon. No such imaginary creatures, however, put Washington Heights small-plates joint Manolo Tapas out of reach—happily, this pub-like Spanish restaurant is in a highly accessible location on Broadway near the George Washington Bridge, and sightings of flying, fire-breathing beasts in the vicinity have not been documented enough to warrant avoidance. There is a thing called safety in food. Smaug, for all his pyrotechnic antics, never had it as good.
You may attest to that after entering Manolo, which does the tavern theme up nicely. Near the entrance, a rustic bar meets your eye; to the left, you’ll discover a room fenced in by brick and stone walls and containing naked wooden tables festooned with cloth napkins. It may be crowded—this spot is popular with local Heights-ites—and somewhat cramped, but service is solicitous, and the cuisine is quite enjoyable. All of that helps to alleviate any quibbles with the layout; you’re in a professional establishment here. And if you nod your head to the music playing in the backgrounds, you might just get in the mood. At Manolo, it’s not hard to do so.
It is hard, on the other hand, to contest the fact that your waiter may pour water into your glass when you need it; this is a smart way to start. Another smart beginning: the large wine list featuring many Spanish varieties, as well as cocktails and a significant selection of craft beer. If you opt for sangria, you can choose from a few kinds … the red is light and fruity—it arrives in an earthy pitcher. Many customers order paella here, but tapas is the name of the game, and it’s sparkling at Manolo. You can get hot and cold iterations; on the warm side are the orejas y morro—fatty, luscious tidbits of suckling pig ear and snout bathed in olive oil and paprika: the portion is generous, and you may not be able to finish the unctuous meat if you get many more plates. Yet more should be the path to take, as the bites are often brilliant. Take the empanada Gallega del dia, for example: If it’s tuna on the day you visit, you’ll receive something that looks like square slices of pie; they’re flaky, well seasoned, filled with the fish, plus peppers and onions. (The spicy red cabbage served with the dish is a swell balance.)
Then there are the datiles rellenos: dates stuffed with Cabrales cheese and wrapped in bacon. These are savory, salty … perhaps a bit strong owing to the assertive blue. Also on the powerful side are the patatas bravas—chunks of potatoes topped with a spicy sauce; they’re crisp and a little aggressive. After this, you might veer toward the cold side of the tapas menu, and a sweet fit would be the assortment of Spanish cheeses, Garrotxa, Mahon and Murcia al Vino comprise the collection. They aren’t subtle variations of these types, but they’re toothsome and go nicely with the grapes and walnuts displayed on the board alongside them. You really can’t complain.
You can, however, order dessert, and there are few better items here than the sweet called “Un Canto a Kiara”—which, to your delight, features a rich chocolate truffle arranged like notes on a bar of music opposite a ball of raspberry sorbet … the G clef added in sauce to the design of the plate makes this tuneful offering sing out. There are sherries available post-repast, too; you may decide on one of those if you require further fortification. Prices for the tapas average in the teens, though mains may run up a bit more. Bear in mind that Manolo is cash-only; in light of that, you should bring the requisite wallet. Still, for the quality, the cost is appropriate, and given the friendliness of the servers at this establishment, you’re likely to walk home satisfied. After all, there are no dragons to pursue you in this neck of the woods. That only happens in Midtown.
At least, it may in our imaginations. Thankfully, the tavern is more than a figment of our reality.