Castanets, machine-gunning heels, flying feet, and bantam-rooster posturing, I’ve loved flamenco since the first time I saw José Greco. I’m moved by sinuous women and masterful men striking poses to guitar arpeggios and the staccato punctuation of castanets, and by the keening wail of the cante jondo, the auditory umbilicus that joins North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula. Siguiriyas, bulerias, and even Sevillanas, I love every Andalusian cliché of it. I also love tapas, the nibbles that become a meal, and bars that recall the smoke-filled tascas near the Plaza Mayor in Madrid or off Calle Sierpes in Seville, classless haunts where patrons stand ankle deep in discarded paper napkins, sausage rinds, and shrimp shells while debating the latest corrida. Here friends can share thick-rimmed glasses of purple-tinged wine or chilled copitas of Tio Pepe while munching flaked bits of manchego cheese or an earthenware cazuela of angulas, sublime baby eels that look like spaghetti with eyes.
Alegrias celebrates this marriage of flamenco and tapas. A long bar invites sitting and sampling, while tightly packed small tables facing a stage encourage conversation yet allow for some privacy. An array of candles adds flickering color to the otherwise nondescript decor. Right now there are foot-stomping flamenco shows Thursday through Saturday, with related musical attractions most other nights. In off-hours, scenes from subtitled Spanish films and dance concerts are silently projected on the wall while a guitar throbs in the background.
When not flapping my arms and shouting olé, I spent my first visit sitting at the bar with a glass of Rioja. Next time I was back for food. I expect my gazpacho with the minced veggies and croutons on the side, and the version here ($5.95) got full credit, earning extra points for the lustily flavored olive oil that accented the tomato-infused soup. The setting demanded the classic jamon serrano, aceitunas y queso ($14.95), which arrived as a mound of finely shaved ham whose salty sweetness was the ideal match for the assortment of olives and hunks of cheese that came with it. The tortilla a la espanola ($5.95) was a mini meal, a sizable wedge of potato-rich omelette dotted with pieces of sausage–much better than the albondigas, meatballs in fresh ground almond sauce ($6.95), ping-pong balls of chewy meat topped with the grainy, sweetish brown goo that is currency in most of Manhattan’s Spanish spots. Also disappointing was
pollo al ajillo ($7.95), chicken in garlic sauce, which covered chunks of tasty bird with a faintly garlicky cream that needed heaps more stinking weed. But espinacas con garbanzons ($5.95), a mound of fresh-tasting sautéed spinach seasoned with a drizzling of the fruity olive oil and filled with dense, earthy chickpeas, was a big winner.
My next visit began with a sampler of olives ($2.95) and chilled glasses of sherry before progressing to entrées. My friend’s chicken Alegrias ($12.95), a moist grilled breast with a parsley-flecked variation on the not-enough-garlic-and-loads-of-cream theme, worked better when a garlic zap wasn’t expected. Risking cultural whiplash, I chose the kalbi ($13.95), the owner’s homage to his Korean wife, and got three slices of short ribs. They were chewy and tender. But on future visits I’ll go for the fun and stick to the Spanish culinary clichés, which are also available in assorted platter combinations ($18.95) and best washed down with a pitcher of sangria. And I will be back. You’ll know me by the rose in my teeth.
Alegrias 46 Bedford Street, 741-1935. Open Tuesday through Sunday, 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. (3 a.m. for drinks). All major credit cards. Limited wheelchair access.