Some restaurant have a great vibe the instant you walk through the door. El Porron is one of them. It's located in a part of the city that could use some fresh blood. I'm not quite sure the last time I traveled to 62nd and First Avenue, except for maybe the tram, but word of this new Spanish spot tweaked my curiosity.
What we found was a beautifully designed restaurant with lots of exposed brick, slate floors, solid wood tables and coffee-colored banquettes. Tiled columns, shimmering candles and a healthy wine list have made El Porron an instant neighborhood hit.
The restaurant offers a mix of hot and cold tapas, paella and lots of shellfish. There's a roast eggplant salad with salted cod ($9), and Spanish artichoke hearts in a Chardonnay vinaigrette ($7). Shrimps, in a classic dish called Gambas al Ajillo ($9), arrive in a tasty garlic wine sauce; little neck clams, still nice and briny, are splashed with a tomato and herb sauce ($9), and chicken croquettes ($7) get some added crunch from a tasty crust. My personal favorite is the Codorniz Asada con Salsa de Frutas ($11) - a perfectly prepared roast quail served in a fig and raisin sauce with a side of homemade potato chips. You'll need to use your hands to get every bite, but it's well worth it.
Paella is also a specialty here, and while it takes 30 to 40 minutes, most people didn't seem to mind, especially when the wine is flowing. There's Valencia ($23) served with veal, chicken and chorizo on a bed of saffron rice; Marinera ($26) with clams, scallops, mussels, squid and monkfish; and even a vegetarian variety.
Sea bass, topped with crispy fried onions, turned out to be a bit on the bland side, saved by a bed of freshly roasted vegetables. But the veal was fabulous. The dish, called Ternera con Setas Silvestres al Aroma de Jerez ($27), featured five or six cutlets, sliced thin with earthy wild mushrooms on top and swimming in an Oloroso sherry reduction. It's a dish worthy of a return trip.
The wine list at El Porron is lengthy and tilts heavily toward Spain. Or, you can opt for a refreshing glass of sangria ($25 a carafe/$20 for half). On the dessert menu you'll find two types of flan, an apple tart with fresh whipped cream, as well as a chocolate lava cake.
El Porron has a lot to offer. It's a perfect spot for large groups, as well as couples, although the volume might make it less attractive for a romantic meal. We found the staff to be warm, friendly and quite accomodating.
So, if you're looking for a touch of Spain you may want to head uptown!