Bellota on My Mind

In lighter news (and as I fully predicted), Chef Anthony Goncalves’s Bellota at 42 is a great addition to the scene. He’s taken the bar, lounge, and mezzanine dining rooms of his high-toned, Ritz-Carlton aerie and injected the cool space with welcome Iberian warmth.

When we visited on Friday evening, my editor-in-chief, Esther Davidowitz, and I happened to bump into Fred Mastroianni of EDC. Mastroianni is helping to tweak Bellota’s sleek design Spainward with planned tree-trunk tables ablaze with fire-pit-like torches. Currently (as I already noted), ashy-trunked birch trees are screening the mezzanine dining room’s expanse of glass. While birch trunks don’t exactly evoke the oak forests that fatten Bellota pigs, they do allude to woodsiness, and, at their base, you’ll see a scatter of acorns that could conceivably fatten a Pata Negra. Soon, votives will be will be hung from the birch trunks, and Mastroianni plans to replace the dining tables with “something more raw.”

Does it work? That depends. I appreciated all the rustic gestures in the space, though my editor observed that, even with all the evocation of forest, it’s “still the Ritz. You still have to valet your car, walk through the lobby, and get in an elevator.” Point taken: raw tables and all, Bellota at 42 will never be a pintxos crawl in my beloved San Sebastián. But it’s still very nice, and a cozy surprise after the stomach-dropping elevator rush.

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Goncalves’s food is often stellar and, at Bellota, it’s even a great value. You won’t find touches of molecular gastronomy any cheaper than here. Take a $9 torta Espagnole that Goncalves calls one of his modern tapas. Basically, these are tapas that he’s reconceived in his odd, molecular gastronomist’s mind. The “torta” is potato “espuma” (Yukon Gold, their cooking water and cream foamed in a canister) with bell pepper “caviar” (that is, juiced, gelled and “spherified” into tiny, fish egg like balls), with dehydrated Manchego served under a dome of cherry wood and juniper smoke. It arrives at the table smelling of fall and the dawn of game season. And, may I repeat, it’s nine frikkin’ dollars.

Foie gras and cotton candy, or meat and whimsy (top), at Bellota at 42

42’s august wine director, Ernani Silva, is slinging equally great deals. We loved a cheap and cheerful Albariño “La Cana” at only $8 per glass, but we needn’t have committed to just one: Silva offers one-ounce tastes of everything on the list. “We’ve brought as many as five tastes out to certain customers,” he says, indulgently (though with some humor). We followed our Albariño with a seductive pink sparkler, Marques de Gelida Cava, at $8—perfect to pair with the mouth-coating fats of foie gras, choriço, and jamon.

Don’t miss the dish pictured here. It’s a yummy choriço asada, roasted tableside in its own little piggy dish. The choriço are still snappy-skinned and juicy with just the right garlicky spice, plus it’s fun to watch them sizzle merrily on the edge of your table.

Classic tapas at Bellota at 42 are equally charming, and include an addictive pile of blistered padrones, whose salty skins yield to all the roasty-toasted flavors of this classic (and basic) bar snack. In Spain, it’s considered lucky to find a hot pepper in the pile, and, amazingly—or through skilled service—we both found one.

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Though I (and, apparently, Chef Goncalves) are drawn by all things pork, there are some lovely dishes here for those with lighter appetites. A remarkable special beet salad, with a perfect rectangle of “carpaccio” of beet, arrived haunted with mixed citrus and scented with orange-blossom honey. The dish’s star was port-poached figs, and yummy freeze-dried raspberries finished with Goncalves’s beloved liquid nitrogen. We also loved an amazingly delicate shrimp empanada, which arrived with tiny toothpaste tubes of house-made saffron aioli – and who doesn’t love food that comes in tubes?

That nitro reappeared in one of my favorite desserts from 42; it’s a bitter orange marmalade sauce whipped with fresh cream then blasted. The nitro essentially freeze-dries the cream and sauce, intensifying their flavors and making chewy sort of ice cream nuggets. Goncalves winkingly calls the dish Dippin’-Dots-based Creamsicle, though the flavors here are much more sophisticated than anything found of those ice cream novelties. Also great was a bacon Fig Newton that ventured smokiness with a slight hint of pig for dessert.

In short, ignore the hoopla and get over to Bellota at 42–we’re fans, and we’re sure that you will be, too.

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