Spanish-Chinese fusion sounds like an odd pairing for a restaurant to pull off, but Tasca Chino (245 Park Avenue South; 212-335-2220) makes it work. With a menu dotted with Latin- and Asian-inspired dishes, the Gramercy Park spot’s fare nods to its vegetarian clientele. “We want to cater to everybody,” chef Alex Urena tells the Voice, adding that his aim is to satisfy patrons’ requests for a healthier menu.
Indeed, the fusion is unusual. “What I like to call it is ‘freestyle’ cuisine. We focus more on the Spanish side and we have a little hint of Chinese. We got the idea when we decided to open the place. I think basically you would say it’s a Chinese tapas,” Urena explains.
Born in the Dominican Republic, Urena came to the U.S. when he was sixteen and landed his first job as a dishwasher. He worked his way up to become a cook, traveling abroad to Spain, France, and the Bahamas to fine-tune his cooking skills. He finally came back to America with experience in all the various cuisines, which he has since incorporated into Tasca Chino’s menu since the restaurant opened in March.
The restaurant’s blistered shishito peppers, an East Asian type, are naturally sweet (with a hot one here and there), but after the dish is doused in smoked salt and sherry vinegar, the juicy, crunchy peppers become more piquant, with a tangy afterkick.
The patatas bravas ($8) are a traditional Spanish tapas. The bottom of the dish is covered in a tamarind barbecue sauce; the crisp potatoes sit on top, laden with a Sichuan pepper aioli, which mingles with the tamarind to create a sweet, creamy, and tangy sauce for the potatoes.
The spiciness of the potatoes pleasantly offsets the wild mushroom and truffle dumplings ($8). The outside of the dumplings are soft and supple; taking a bite into the dumpling reveals a bevy of chewy, thickly cut mushrooms dressed with a truffle oil that feels rich and luscious on the tongue.
The ethos of any tapas restaurant is to try as many things as possible. Another dish to try is the restaurant’s garbanzo frito with house-made kimchi and wasabi mayo ($9). The outsides of the fritters are thin and crunchy, while the cake inside is velvety — it certainly melts in your mouth. The dish has overt spicy notes, while the kimchi is both tangy and spicy, and even very little of the mayo garnish still adds a powerful punch.
Or try the scallion pancake ($9), which features manchego cheese, house-made soy sauce, and a fennel seaweed salad (it comes with an anchovy on top of the salad, which you can ask your waiter to exclude). The grilled pancakes are generously seasoned with green onions, which give the dish a sharpness, and the cheese inside oozes out as you cut into them.