Brooklyn has never been strong for tapas, and North Brooklyn has never done much to help matters. Mercat Negre was kind of odd, so was Cadaques to a degree and now it’s shifted French, and Bar Celona had that hard-to-get-past name and died a slow death. El Born, joining the new Greenpoint restaurant brigade, has potential. At least it’s trying something new.
Keeping with the original tapas spirit, the narrow room is taken up mostly by a long bar with a few small tables and stools against the opposite buff brick wall (there are a few larger tables in the back). Good for a drink or two and a few small plates of food. With that said, it’s still one of those mysterious math places where a majority of menu items are under $15 and yet you still end up spending $100 when all is said and done.
The restaurant also taps into the Spanish fondness for gin and tonics, a.k.a. gintonic, with four variations including #2 (Bulldog gin, Fever Tree tonic, lemon peel, licorice) and #4 (Hendricks gin, Schweppes tonic, cucumber, black pepper, lime) pictured here. And yes, there’s a kalimotxo.
Many of the ingredients are Spanish, but the preparations aren’t totally classic. Pa amb tomaquet, which was brought out like an amuse, was one exception.
Croquettes are a tapas staple, but less common are ones filled with mint, goat cheese and pine nuts propped on a base of apple sauce (not applesauce).
I was going to say that Greenpoint is having a rabbit moment, but the fate of Glasserie’s much lauded shareable hare is undetermined and I don’t see the conill amb allioli on El Born’s current online menu. The bony chunks are coated in chestnut flour, fried, presented in a paper bag (I could’ve sworn there was rosemary in there too) and served with a citrusy aioli. Definitely order this chicken nugget alternative if it’s available.
Picaña’ amb brou is the Catalan answer to roast beef au jus. Slices of rare steak on toast with a rosemary-perfumed pig foot broth is high on presentation, though not necessarily the easiest to share or decipher. Sipping makes more sense.
The only dud was the cauliflower gratin, which apparently wasn’t impressive enough to merit a iPhone shot (this was not intentional). Instead of a browned casserole thick with manchego and bechamel, the reality was a dish of steamy florets sitting in a pool of thin white sauce. Who needs a gratin anyway? Eat a salad if you’re feeling vegetable deprived.
El Born * 651 Manhattan Ave., Brooklyn, NY