I was thrilled to be able to visit Tasca at 505 Columbus Avenue between 84th and 85th Streets on the Upper West Side recently when I heard that it blends traditional Spanish cuisine with the Latin flavors of the Caribbean–and then puts a Modern American twist on everything. I kind of consider this place a “one stop shop” for the best Latin flavors PERIOD. When I first walked in the door I was charmed by the open airy atmosphere, white tiled floors and coffered high ceilings. There were numerous cozy outdoor tables but I wanted to sit way in the back so that I could soak in the entire romantic candle lit atmosphere and do a complete “people watch” over the chic but casual crowd.
My dining partner Gail and so started off with knockout fruit based drinks that were recommended by our affable server (you will quickly learn that the servers at Tasca know every drink and food item like the back of their hands). Gail had the Isle Of Flowers which is vodka, Spanish vermouth; hibiscus and curaçao blended together into what Tasca calls a “subtly sweet cooler.” She loved it and was smart enough to sip it slowly as the drinks are pretty potent here! I loved the way this ruby red cocktail was topped with a real hibiscus flower! I imbibed the Oceanographer created from Navy gin, orgeat, pineapple juice and apricot nectar–served ice cold with a wedge of grilled pineapple. This potent drink is now up in my official Top Three Pineapple Drinks Of All Time list. Just be forewarned that you will probably have to take an UBER home if you have more than two of these!
Next up it was appetizer time and Gail and I went to town on the Empanadas which have three different fillings–chicken, beef brisket and vegetable & cheese. The sides of smoked paprika aioli and a subtle chimichurra sauce were freshly made in the kitchen and were the perfect accent. The soft, lightly spiced brisket was an unexpected filling for a Latin resto but was simply amazing, especially when paired with the chimichurra sauce. The chicken empanada oozed juice when I bit into it and the vegetable & cheese filling was subtle and sublime. This trio of empanadas could be a meal in themselves as they were hearty and filling.
The second appetizer that Gail and I shared was the incredible Chicarron De Pollo which is Seville orange marinated crispy chunks of chicken that are pan seared then put into an oven to complete cooking all the way through. You would swear that they are breaded but they are not–the coated look comes from the herbed chicken cubes hitting the skillet and getting a crisp outer golden hue. These chicken bites are large, have a light orange flavor and are ultra juicy. I love the side of pickled cabbage with wild greens that comes on the plate, too. Gail proclaimed this our best dish of the entire meal!
When it comes to entrees, Gail and I are both big carnivores and so we were dying to try the steaks being offered. I went for the Ribeye with a Demiglace served over cubed and sautéed green plaintains. This lovely full pound of marbled meat was cooked to a perfect medium rare temperature just how I like it, the Demiglace sauce was warm and inviting, and the cubed plaintains were the perfect compliment. I liked the additional flash of it coming to the table with bay leaves in flames that were fanned down by our server. I could not finish this steak despite having a large appetite, and enjoyed it the next day for lunch. (Be forewarned that this is an extra filling entree!)
Gail orders Filet Mignon whenever possible and who could blame her? It is always one of the most consistent items on any menu. The Filet Mignon at Tasca is served over a fried yuca cake with cabrales and an oloroso reduction. This picturesque presentation was “crowned” with a gorgeous pile of wild mushrooms and fresh sticks of rosemary. The pool of sauce looked so inviting that I wanted to swim in it. There was definitely some chimichurra sauce thrown in the mix with the oloroso reduction for a dramatic effect and you can see it on the outer part of the plate above. I tried a piece of this grass fed steak and was amazed at its tenderness.
We never leave a restaurant without having dessert and Gail ordered the Coconut Tres Leches Cake but not without yours truly taking a couple of bites before she sunk her fork into it. The artistic presentation included puréed raspberry and mango as well as chunks of blueberries and strawberries–and there was a perfect scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream with a classic Spanish butter cookie in circular shape on top! This looked like it belonged on display at MOMA, but we just had to eat it! The cake’s naturally sweet coconut taste–created with coconut milk and shredded coconut flakes–as made it a winner! It’s also one of the moistest cakes that you will ever eat.
I always have to have Flan when I am in a Spanish restaurant and Tasca’s version of this classic dessert does not disappoint! It’s official name on the menu is Flan De Caramelo and it is caramel flan as stated but with macerated fruit and a coconut terron. Again, there is homemade vanilla ice cream on the side as a special treat. This was a generous portion and the presentation was very pretty thanks in part to some powdered sugar and coconut flakes on the outer part of the plate. Flan is the perfect Latin dessert to me and I highly recommend that you finish your meal at Tasca by ordering it.
Tasca actually means “tavern” in Spanish, so you of course could sit at the bar and order both grog and food. They have a few artisanal draft beers on hand including a couple of Upper West Side favorites–the dry rose cider from Wolffer Estate out in Sagaponack and the Bronx Brewery’s American Pale Ale. Prices at Tasca are moderate and the atmosphere is both romantic and relaxing, so you have absolutely no reason not to go! For more info, go to www.tasca-nyc.com. Reservations are encouraged but not mandatory.