When he was sixteen years old, chef Alex Ureña left the Dominican Republic for a post at the River Cafe in Brooklyn. Since then, he’s worked in local places like Blue Hill and Bouley, and he’s been behind burners in France, the Bahamas, and Spain (including a stint at El Bulli). As a result, he loves culture and exploring the ways it comes to bear on different foods: He’s a student of Chinese, Korean, Latin, and Brazilian fare, and sushi.
Ureña is combining all of those lessons at Tasca Chino (245 Park Avenue South; 212-335-2220), melding East and West with a menu of tapas that marries Chinese and Spanish flavors.
“It’s what I call freestyle cuisine,” says Ureña. “We’re trying to take classic Chinese dishes and take them to somewhere else that’s more adaptable to American palates. We’re trying to do the same with Spanish.” (Tasca chino, by the way, means Chinese pub or tavern.)
Expect to see items like dumplings filled with chicken and chorizo, braised lamb neck and curry, and shrimp and pork. Classic grilled octopus gets the East Asian treatment with a teriyaki marinade, daikon, and Chinese garlic. Pork belly gets braised with moro and ponzu glaze. Coca de pato mixes flatbread with roasted duck, hoisin, blue cheese, and Asian pear.
While the list is anchored in tapas and small plates, you’ll also find entrées on the menu. Rice and noodle dishes go the fusion route; see, for example, the paella de coca — coconut rice, shrimp, clams, and fava beans scented with yellow curry. Clay-pot Chinese rice marries chicken, Chinese sausage, broccoli, ginger, and bacon. Soy milk dan dan soba noodles incorporate Spanish chorizo with bok choy in a soy-milk broth. And tuna gets an Asian twist with a seaweed and sesame crust; it’s served with soybean purée, white asparagus, and ginger ponzu sauce. “It’s a blend of more rustic Spanish dishes with Chinese,” says Ureña.
Desserts follow the cross-cultural theme. Pastry chef Terri Dreisbach is intermingling Spanish and Asian ingredients for unique sweet treats such as a coconut-yuzu bubble tea float with Fever Tree ginger beer and boba served with a black sesame-yuzu macaron.
As for drinks, look for cocktails made with Chinese teas. The Fujian Old-Fashioned is one example: Bulleit rye combines with freshly brewed lapsang suchong tea and Angostura-infused ice. The bar is also serving traditional Spanish sangrias, plus a non-traditional version called Al Chino, made with white wine, Chinese baijiu (a distilled white spirit), and Asian fruit. No- and low-alcohol cocktails are also on the menu.
The restaurant is a collaboration between owners Simon Oren, David Sasson (partners of Barbounia and Union Square’s Pavilion), and Ureña. Originally, Oren was hoping to open a French-Chinese hybrid, but eventually settled on Spanish. “My goal is to have a place where people come in and have huge taste and a good atmosphere,” says Ureña. “I want them to feel like they’re in China and Spain without leaving New York.”
Tasca Chino is open for dinner. Lunch and brunch are slated to begin in the next month or so.
Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera.