As many of you know, I spent close to a year living in Spain during college. This time gave me the unique opportunity to immerse myself in the country’s language, rich culture and cuisine. Since returning to New York however, I have yet to find a restaurant that makes the typical cuisine of Spain the way I remember it.
Until now. Last week, while celebrating the third anniversary of our arrival in Spain with a friend, we decided we needed tapas. Badly. We yanked out our smartphones and started dialing all the tapas places we could find in lower Manhattan that yielded good reviews. At 10pm on a Saturday, everything was booked. Except for La Nacional, a restaurant on West 14th Street between 7th and 8th avenues.
La Nacional looks, from the outside, like a small underground restaurant. Actually, it looks like my host family’s apartment in Granada. A hallway painted white and decorated with Spanish paintings and posters direct you to the restaurant’s main entrance. It feels like you are about to eat in someone’s home. Inside, everything is rustic, white and red. It’s cozy and inviting.
It took my friend and I about a minute to decide what to eat, despite the restaurant’s full menu. We ordered three traditional tapas: gambas al ajillo (garlic shrimp), tortilla española and croquetas, which are sadly not gluten free. (I bent the rules just this one time because I missed it so much!) The gambas al ajillo were cooked to perfection, though I would recommend not eating this on a date; this dish contains a HIGH volume of garlic. The tortilla española, our combined favorite, tasted exactly like Spain. Lastly, the fried croquetas, made with bechamel and ham, were crunchy and delicious. We also shared an arroz negro which is a paella made with squid ink and various types of seafood. (And for this, our waitress happily gave us extra aioli sauce!)
The entire meal, including a side of bread, cost around $30 per person, including tip. Having been to many tapas and paella restaurants around the city, I was extremely overjoyed to find such wonderful and unusual food at such a reasonable price. I will definitely return, if only to try their pescado en salsa verde (fish in parsley sauce), albondigas (meatballs) and chorizo. As they say in Spain, ¡buen provecho!
**Please note that some of these dishes may contain gluten. Always check with your server before ordering**