Some say jamon, some say paella, but if there's one dish that I've equated with Spain, it's the obligatory tomato and toast. It's not the most glamorous of dishes, nor the most complex: its name sort of says it all, less the usual accompanying garlic. 85% or more of the menus we perused in Barcelona, Madrid and beyond all offered it, much in the same way waiters offer still or sparkling. And yet few had the same idea of the dish: toast with diced tomatoes; bread with sliced tomatoes; one place even provided a side of mayo. The wonderful variation of it all, as vast as any place worth visiting should be.
Sardine Can, the newest of the city's few tapas restaurants, offers this dish ($5), with a blizzard of manchego grated atop, while its patrons (well, one) contemplates authenticity and its complexities. There are few colour-coded toothpicks here, the servings are much larger in scale, and I'm certainly not as vacation-drunk. The toast is unlike any other version I've had, though the spirit is similar. It's here, with all its variations.
Sardine Can squeezes out those flavour profiles from a kitchen too small for standard equipment, similar to Judas Goat down the street (only the Spanish incarnation of the Waldorf's chef-in-residence saw a kitchen with gas burners). An octopus, potato and chorizo stew ($10), much like the tomato toast, gives a good dose of nostalgia, the sort where the memory's probably not quite right but the feeling is all the same. The meatballs cooked in Rioja red and tomato ($10) reaches for the same achievement, but for its unfortunate density and heft. The patatas bravas ($5) provides a good reminder that I didn't get much from the dish across the Atlantic, either. But it's the arroz la bomba ($10) - little arancina-esque balls of paella rice - that sums it all up best: nothing here is exactly the same as that tiny place in La Ribera, nor should you expect it to be. Two glasses of grenache later and it all goes down easy. (Particularly if you end off with the chocolate terrine ($5.50) with olive oil and sea salt, a dessert I almost wish I saw more of in Spain itself.)
26 Powell Street
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