Eating outside in New York City can be a challenge. Diners must inhale bus exhaust while squeezing into tiny tables on crowded, noisy street corners. Or worse, dodge scurrying rats on makeshift back patios. Despite all the obstacles, we’ll still flock to any spot offering a cool summer breeze. Which explains the instant buzz around Salinas, a new Spanish restaurant in Chelsea.
Its back dining room features a retractable ceiling and large fireplace, setting the stage for al fresco romance and adding instant conviviality. Meanwhile, in the adjacent interior dining room, hanging glass lamps dangle above plush blue seats and many banquettes, while grotto-like stone walls lend a touch of faux rustic chic—think Manolo Blahnik hiking boots. Indeed, a nightclubby vibe fuels the restaurant, which clearly draws crowds from the nearby Meatpacking District.
The spot’s name evokes the salt marshes along the coast of Spain and the Balearic Islands, and chef Luis Bollo’s menu highlights dishes from that region. You’ll still find textbook tapas, many of them spot-on, like the grilled bread slathered with perfectly fresh tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil ($7) and the fried shishito peppers ($8). More original offerings include quail ($16), cut into bite-sized pieces and paired with bacon and plums for a sweet-savory finish. And although pimentón walloped the Brussels spouts and cauliflower ($9) at one meal, it added a delectably smoky hint to the cooling yogurt sauce on another.
A must-order entrée is the rosejat rápida ($23), even though its chicken chunks are overcooked. “It’s like gourmet Spanish Rice-A-Roni,” a friend exclaimed after digging into the squat vermicelli noodles topped with tiny cockles, chorizo nubs, and a hearty glob of lemon-yellow aioli. Really, who doesn’t secretly love the San Francisco treat? I certainly do—Rice Pilaf flavor, booyah!—and this hearty bowl totally bests the box. Another standout—the porcella ($36), a portion of slow-roasted suckling pig large enough for two, served with grilled apricots and wilted frisée. The meat’s tender, but the prize here is really the crackling golden skin—nix the diet for this oinker.
Other dishes aren’t as lucky. Head-on shrimp ($13) bathe in a delicately flavored pool of wine and garlic, but are mushy. The tuna in the avocado-slicked ceviche ($12) suffers, too—perhaps it marinated too long. The striped bass ($26) lacks flavor, and the veggie medley that comes with it adds little to the culinary equation, save for an oddly bitter aftertaste. And smoked paprika mauls the patatas bravas ($7) nearly beyond recognition.
The food at Salinas might be decent enough overall—provided you order correctly—to warrant a repeat visit. Unfortunately, the service will keep me from ever going back.
Perhaps the waiters are simply too busy ogling the throngs of blondes in their glittery dresses to focus on actually doing their jobs. One night at the restaurant, my friends and I waited nearly 40 minutes for our appetizers, only then to be greeted with our mains. At another dinner, our server deposited the shishito peppers in front of us, then realized that we had actually asked for the pequillos. Rather than offering to retrieve our original order, he inquired if this mistake would suffice. Who wants to deal with this general sort of disaffected unprofessionalism—not to mention the hostesses’ icy demeanor and death-stare eyes!
But one glance overhead at a rare starry night in New York City, and most can be forgiven. Though not quite forgotten.
For more restaurant coverage, check out our food blog, Fork in the Road, at voicefoodblog.com. Follow us on Twitter @ForkintheRoadVV.