La Mancha’s the weirdest place. It almost feels hidden in plain sight or at least ignored, not innovative enough to ride the Spanish new wave and lacking the history and rundown charm of the West Village holdouts. The food is straightforward, hearty, a bit stodgy and not inexpensive (though portions are generous). I felt kind of bad for not returning in over three years, though I never have such guilt over avoiding also nearby Smith Street restaurants.
And after having lackluster dining experiences the past two Saturdays, I was determined to have a pleasant evening this weekend and thankfully succeeded (three glasses of Tempranillo might’ve helped--I did notice my photos becoming progressively blurry, a final interior shot was completely unfocused and useless). James is the one who declared Ghenet and Kimchi Hana to be busts and insisted on making 9pm reservations this time, despite my protests that this was strange and unnecessary.
The room couldn’t possibly be teeming and it wasn’t. Maybe 40% full, there was a family with small children, one couple, one solo diner, a few groups and then a foursome who stomped in loudly and a woman in their party proceeded to fall out of her chair. Were they drunk? Or at least that’s what I thought until I realized it had collapsed beneath her, which normally might be funny but somehow wasn’t especially when I noticed how wobbly mine was too.
Pickled vegetables, like giardiniera (I just like that word because it’s so close to giardia) but probably escabeche to be properly Spanish.
Green salad with an aioli dressing comes with entrees. This touch, as well as the warm bread with little foil-topped plastic packets of butter is what make the meal seem fusty. These are trademarks I associate with an older audience, requisites that are expected of a sit down restaurant dinner.
Picada, a tapas sampling worked out well because ordering three individual items would’ve been too much to spend and eat. Jamon Serrano, nicely fatty around the edges and not paper thin either. I’m reminded of how salty and boring prosciutto is when compared to meaty, substantial Serrano. I’m honestly not sure what makes a ham prosciutto or Serrano and if it’s related to the pig or the processing (I’ve fantasized about curing my own ham, and it looks like a fellow Brooklynite recently did just that). Triangles of manchego, green olives and sautéed garlicky chorizo rounded out the plate.
I just wasn’t swayed by any of the meat-centric entrees, which revolved around veal, chicken or steak. They might be good but descriptions involving wine, garlic and olive oil (yes Spanish, staples) just seemed kind of blah and continental. We went the obvious route with paella Valenciana.
It was a fair enough rendition, the grains of rice neither mushy nor overly firm, with plenty of chorizo, clams and octopus. I always worry about dry chicken (when I’m eating it, not all the time) and yes, the hunks of breast meat had a little too much life cooked out of them. The serving for two easily could’ve fed a few more if you were sharing other main dishes.
The food isn’t dazzling, but the mood is easygoing and service friendly. It’s resolutely a neighborhood joint and I wouldn’t want to fool anyone into thinking it’s a destination restaurant. But as far as the Henry/Atlantic nexus is concerned, you could do much worse.
I later trotted across the BQE onramp and over to the weirdo side of Carroll Gardens that's only three blocks from my apartment (no, that's not Red Hook) where stroller madness in bars has yet take hold, and for good reason: the hodgepodge area is brimming with old school freaks. While sipping a few pints of Brooklyn Lager at Moonshine, I was fascinated by brothers who had to take turns coming and going due to restraining orders. But most baffling and frightening was the human personification of Carl from Aqua Teen Hunger Force. I’ve never heard such a pitch perfect voice, yet with a ponytail attached to the balding noggin.
Thankfully, he wasn’t harassing me because I’m old and attached, but the ladies sitting at the bar next to me got a detailed cooking lesson about how to make a steak (add balsamic vinegar) and mashed potatoes (don’t use a blender). This imagined meal riled up Carl, he got all crazed and spouted, “I want to take a bite out of crime…and you’re crime!” then after a pause, “But not in a sexual way.” Because that would just be wrong. (5/11/08)