THIS IS A REVIEW OF THE UPPER EAST SIDE LOCATION OF BOQUERIA.
My spouse and I dined at Boqueria for dinner on a Sunday evening in late May 2016. This site of Boqueria is located on Second Avenue between East 76st and 77nd Streets on the Upper East Side (UES). Besides the UES location, Boqueria has two other restaurants in New York (one in the Flatiron district, and one in SoHo), and one restaurant in Washington DC (near Dupont Circle); the location
in Hong Kong is currently closed. Boqueria accepts reservations via telephone or by using the Open Table reservation system. The UES location is open daily for lunch (or brunch) and dinner.
The Boqueria “chain” of restaurants were inspired by the best tapas bars in Barcelona. Boqueria restaurants offer New Yorkers the chance to dine as they would in Spain without having to leave the city. Chef Marc Vidal hails from Barcelona, where he began attending culinary school at the age of 16, before working for some of the leading chefs of the world, including Carles Gaig (at the Michelin starred Can Gaig in Barcelona), Ferran Adria (at the famed three Michelin starred restaurant El Bulli in Spain), and Alain Passard (at the three Michelin starred restaurant L’Arpege in Paris). In 2010, Marc joined the Boqueria team as Executive Chef.
The Upper East Side location of Boqueria opened in 2014 and seats about 80 guests, with about 30 of those seats located in the bar/lounge, 7 seated at the chef’s counter, and the remaining covers in the main dining area. Note that all tables at this restaurant are high; there are true high-top tables and communal tables with bar stools, but even the seats at the high tables that share the raised leather banquette, as well as those in the bar area and at the regular bar and the chef’s counter, require a guest to climb onto a bar stool or onto a banquette seat at the same height as a bar stool. For this reason, we do not think that the restaurant is quite handicap-accessible. (A member of our family has some mobility issues, and we would not be able to dine comfortably with her at this location of Boqueria, except perhaps at the regular-height al fresco tables on the front sidewalk.) The tan brick walls and wood plank floor are accented by mirrors and Edison bulbs, which provide a cozy atmosphere. On a busy Sunday night (as part of a holiday weekend), there was a great noisy buzz and busy vibe at the restaurant.
In keeping with the Spanish “tapas” tradition of small plates, we decided to share five savory dishes, which our server delivered in a staggered manner depending on how the chef and his staff prepared them. We started with some cheese and charcuterie: cana de cabra cheese (creamy mild tangy citrus goat’s milk cheese from Murcia) and and lomo Iberico (Spanish pork loin), served on a wooden cutting board along with baguette slices, raisin walnut bread, very tiny pitted olives, and chopped dried fruit [possibly apricots]). Next, we enjoyed the pinxto moruno (seared lamb skewers, topped with pickled shallots and salsa verde and served atop thick slices of bread in order to soak up the sauces/drippings); the lamb skewers were one of our favorite dishes of the night. Then we shared the coca de mallorquina (grilled flatbread topped with pork sausage, caramelized onions, Mahón cheese [Spanish cow’s milk], and several tiny sunny-side-up quail eggs, the yolks of which we broke and allowed to ooze over the other ingredients before we ate the slices). Our last two savory dishes were the piquillos rellenos (red sweet [not hot] peppers stuffed with braised oxtail and topped with crispy shallots, served on a spread of celery root puree), followed by the piece de resistance, fideua negre (toasted black squid ink noodle paella, topped with shrimp, clams, and a dollop of aioli). To finish our meal, we shared the torrija, a Spanish dessert that consists of bread soaked in milk, then deep-fried and finally baked, placed atop of spread of plum compote and topped with a scoop of coffee ice cream. (The bread is crispy outside but smooth inside.) Because we sat at the chef’s counter, he was also kind enough to present us with a complimentary order of the Nutella churros (fried dough filled with hazelnut spread and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar). Boqueria holds a full liquor license; if you feel adventurous, try the “porron”, a traditional Spanish drinking vessel that looks like a glass watering can. It can be filled with any liquor, and you drink from it by holding it over your head and pouring so that the stream lands in your mouth. (The poron is automatically delivered with one of the vegetable-based dishes on the menu so that the liquor enhances the flavor of the food.)
So many restaurants today call themselves “tapas” establishments (meaning that they serve lots of small plates and appetizers, although not necessarily Spanish cuisine), but Boqueria is the real deal and provides a mostly authentic experience.