Tag: tapas

Unini? Panuni?

Monday, April 7th, 2008 | All Things, Drinks, Eats

El Quinto Pino — the follow-up effort from the team behind successful tapas bar Tía Pol — has collected raves from just about every media outlet in the city since it opened last year. So it was with great anticipation that I made arrangements to meet MLF at 24th and Ninth this evening. When we arrived, the high-ceilinged room was packed with an after-work crowd, but almost right away, we managed to snap up a pair of seats near the front door. It was a stroke of good fortune: there are stools set up along the curved white marble-topped bar (behind which is tucked the diminutive kitchen) and several more scattered around the shallow-shelved perimeter, but otherwise EQP is standing room only. The food and drink offerings are as heavily edited as the decor: the entire handwritten menu fit on two chalkboards displayed above the bar.

Which brings us to the uni panini. I cannot recall a single menu item that’s been showered with as much praise as chef-owner Alex Raij’s spiny sea urchin creation. (Cumulatively, however, it’s possible that the dishes on the Momofuku Ko tasting menu have received more breathless coverage.) Not everyone’s a fan, though; I’ve read some criticism that this sandwich is overhyped and offers poor value.

Hard to disagree with the first charge — The Times‘s Frank Bruni called it “the sandwich of [his] life” in his 2007 year-end review; food blogger Andrea Strong likened it to “really good, hot, sweaty sex” — and upon analysis, this delicate sliver of a sandwich does seem fairly simple and easily replicated at home: scallops of bright orange uni gently pressed into a slightly crisped ficelle from LIC’s Tom Cat Bakery, that’s been smeared with a kicky Korean mustard oil-spiked butter. Not hearty eats, by any means, but the synergy of briny, delicately sweet, custard-like roe (actually: gonads) and warm crunchy-chewy bread seemed to me the pinnacle of deliciousness. I’ve eaten more — if not necessarily better — for less money, and I’ve eaten worse for more money. Not as often, though, have I eaten less for more money. But is what averages out to about $2.50 a bite really so extravagant? (Sushi, after all, is in this price range… and often more.) I didn’t think so when considering my single $15 panini, though $30 for two panini (or $45 for three… which I could have eaten, happily) might seem to approach exorbitant levels for a place with no true tables. Personally, I didn’t mind, and was happy to wile away the hour and a half, savoring the bites, the good wine and the company of my friend.

Of course there is more to El Quinto Pino’s menu than the uni panini. MLF is not a fan of seafood (so sadly, no Soldaditos de Pavia — salt cod fritters — for us), so she employed the assistance of our friendly bartender in deciding between the two other non-uni sandwiches. Without hesitation, the server recommended the Pringa — a combination of braised meats, morcia (blood sausage) and sautéed onions. (Heartier than the uni panini, for what it’s worth.) Ed Levine may disagree: he named the third, the Serranito (serrano ham sandwich), one of his Ten Most Pleasure-Inducing Dishes of 2007.

There was a dish of fine olives, and this intriguingly tasty Berenjena con Miel: pillowy cylinders of deep-fried eggplant, drizzled with honey and topped with bonito flakes.

In her recent round-up of seven sandwiches, The Times‘s Julia Moskin deemed Raij’s uni panini “not a real New York sandwich… [lacking] the compressed, complete pleasures of the Cuban sandwich, the heft and chew of a fully loaded gyro, the cool crunch of a Vietnamese banh mi.” New York or no, I’d go back for it… and the salt cod and the Torrezznos — Spanish pork belly cracklings.

Tags: , , , ,

There are 6 comments