Salinas: Exciting Spanish Cuisine in a Lush, Romantic Setting

February 4, 2016 9:09 am Last Updated: February 4, 2016 2:29 pm

At Salinas, the food is as excellent and exciting as any I’ve had in Michelin-starred restaurants in northern Spain. Luis Bollo, the Basque executive chef and partner, started his career in San Sebastián, the gastronomic capital of Spain.

After working in a number of Michelin-starred restaurants with chefs Martín Berasategui and Hilario Arbelaitz, he opened a restaurant in Lower Manhattan that offered nouvelle Spanish cuisine, with food foams and spherized gels, similar to the dishes Ferran Adrià of El Bulli created.  

Now at Salinas, Bollo has returned to solid Spanish cooking, using the freshest ingredients available; only a few of the dishes indicate any avant-garde implementation.

The Chelsea restaurant is intimate and seating can be tight. Huge bouquets of Ecuadorian fresh roses decorate the back dining room, which has a most impressive feature—a retractable roof that allows for alfresco dining in warm weather.

Salinas, located in Chelsea, is cozy and inviting. (Epoch Times)
Salinas, located in Chelsea, Manhattan, is cozy and inviting. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)

While the setting is beautiful, it’s the quality of the food and the outstanding service that earn this place my seal of approval. 

A 12-Course Tasting Dinner

The seasonal tasting menu is ever changing. Some key ingredients, though, are imported directly from Spain, such as Jamón de Bellota, a special tasting ham not easily found in the New York City marketplace. The ham is made from pigs fed exclusively on acorns.

I was also happy to see on the menu classics like Patatas Bravas, one of the very few staple dishes that, together with Tortilla Española, is found in every self-respecting restaurant or bar in Spain. And at $105 to $115, depending on the ingredients, the tasting menu is easily half the price of an equivalent menu in Spain.

We started with an oblong tray sporting two tall shot glasses of gazpacho made with heirloom tomatoes, cucumber, and lemon granita. There were also two marinated white sardines with smoked potato brandade and a pickled vegetables jardinière; and croquettes of Ibérico ham, boiled egg, and roasted corn with herbed aioli and pimentón, a smoked Spanish paprika.

Marinated white anchovies, smoked potato brandade, jardinera, multi- grain toast; smoked chicken and sweet potato croquettes; and gazpacho. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)
Marinated white anchovies, smoked potato brandade, jardinera, multi- grain toast; smoked chicken and sweet potato croquettes; and gazpacho. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)

Washed down with a glass of manzanilla from Cádiz, this starter was a delight and a sure indicator of fine things to come.

My dining partner tried a white sangria, and thought it was terrific and well-suited to the starters. Somehow, I personally can’t warm up to “white” sangria (after all, the name sangria is based on “sangre,” the Spanish word for blood). 

The wine list currently has 15 wines by the glass that include several very nice Cavas from Penedés and Extramadura, white Verdejos, Albariños and Godellos, a couple rosés and five “tintos,” mostly medium- to full-bodied red wines. 

The “by the bottle” section is divided into light, medium, and full-bodied categories for both whites and reds. I recognized a number as exceptional libations, and depending on what courses you have, you should have no difficulty selecting a great wine from Penedés, Priorat, Rioja, Ribera del Duero, or any of the better Spanish viticultural regions.

But back to the small plates …

A very traditional dish on both the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts of Spain is  Calamares a la Plancha. In this case the charcoal-grilled squid was stuffed with caramelized onions in squid ink. The squid was crunchy on the outside and silky inside.

Another dish was Queso Mozárabe, an Andaluz specialty of crispy fried phyllo purses stuffed with fresh cheese and toasted Marcona almonds, served on an emulsion of honey, coriander, and olive oil. It made for a delicious interplay of sweet and salty.

Queso Mozárabe. (Epoch Times)
Queso Mozárabe. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)

At this point I changed wines to a crisp, white, slightly acidic Albariño, and my partner moved to the red sangria.

The Ventresca al Oloroso came next. The charcoal-grilled belly of yellowtail tuna was served with an oloroso sherry picante glaze and Andalusian pipirrana, shaved fennel, diced small cucumber, shaved bell pepper, sweet onions, and anise. For a person who likes charcoal-grilled tuna, it is a winner.

Ventresca al Oloroso, charcoal- grilled belly of yellowtail tuna. (Epoch Times)
Ventresca al Oloroso, charcoal-grilled belly of yellowtail tuna. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)

The final small plate was also outstanding. Quail legs rested on cubed apple and were wrapped in crispy ribbons of applewood-smoked bacon, glazed with a sweet and savory Pedro Ximénez sherry reduction.

Then came examples of Spanish pasta and rice dishes. While pasta is usually a primo piatto in Italy—a course larger than an appetizer and slightly smaller than a main—in Spain pasta (“fideos”) or rice (“arroces”) dishes are considered mains. 

Fideo is what we would call angel hair pasta. Here it was al dente toasted vermicelli, cooked in a squid ink broth, topped with shaved white cuttlefish strips and sprinkled with Spanish paprika. Crunchy and a bit on the salty side, it is a typical Catalan dish favored in the seafood restaurants in Barceloneta, the harbor community of Barcelona where the best fish restaurants are found.

Fideo cooked in a squid ink broth, topped with shaved white cuttlefish strips. (Epoch Times)
Fideo cooked in a squid ink broth, topped with shaved white cuttlefish strips. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)

Next was Arroz Meloso de Pulpo, a Galician rice dish with heirloom tomatoes, pimentón, and wild mushrooms, and topped with octopus tentacles. The rice is cooked in a red Rioja wine, very similar in execution to an Amarone risotto from the Veneto. We had it “socarrat” (with the rice toasted and crunchy from the bottom of the pan) and loved it. What also made this dish exceptional was the taste and aroma of the garden-fresh oregano that permeated it.

Arroz Meloso de Pulpo, a Galician rice dish with octopus. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)
Arroz Meloso de Pulpo, a Galician rice dish with octopus. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)

The final main course was Duck Breasts topped with salty Ibérico ham on a bed of small lentils cooked al dente, with strips of red onions and a sweet glaze. 

Even after all these dishes, we were not finished—dessert was still to come! No matter how full one is, in Spain there is always room for dessert because usually dessert is not as sticky and sickly sweet as in the Levant.

We had a flourless chocolate cake topped with a slab of crunchy salty caramel, with a scoop of pistachio-sprinkled vanilla ice cream on the side—a fitting end to a delightful dinner.

Flourless chocolate cake topped with a slab of crunchy, salty caramel. (Epoch Times)
Flourless chocolate cake topped with a slab of crunchy, salty caramel. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)

Salinas
136 Ninth Ave. (between 18th & 19th streets)
New York, NY
212-776-1990
salinasnyc.com

Hours
Monday–Thursday
6 p.m.–10 p.m.
Friday
6 p.m.–11 p.m.
Sunday
5 p.m.–10 p.m.