I took a little trip to Spain recently, but I managed to not leave New York City. I took my friend Jessica to Lizarran for some pintxos and sangria, and everything, right down to the live Flamenco music and dancing, was excellent.
Lizarran is located in the heart of Soho on Mercer St., and is deceptive upon first glance because it looks small, but the restaurant has a rather large back room complete with a small stage for music and dancing. We sat in this back room, and our waiter, Octavio, explained the menu to us and how the pinxtos work. With a large presence in Spain, pintxos are appetizers served on toast points with toothpicks in them, and the servers carry them around to each table and you can take as many or as little as you want. They're all $2 each, and they calculate the cost by counting the toothpicks you've accumulated in a shotglass at the end of the meal. Pretty cool. Be careful though, because they add up quicker than you think. I think by the time we were done we had about 16 toothpicks accounted for…
When in Spain, do as the Spaniards do. That means sangria; lots of sangria. Lizarran offers both red and white sangria (which I love), so we started out with red and then tried the white. The red was better in my opinion, with wine-soaked bits of fruit like apples and oranges (yum). The white was no slouch either, but I think I would have preferred it as more of a brunch drink. The sangrias are $8 per glass, but fortunately they are served in BIG glasses so you really only need one or two anyway.
As soon as we took our first sips, we were presented with the first round of pintxos. Keep in mind, Lizarran offers 200 different kinds of pintxos, so you never know which ones you're going to get. The first one we took was a rather large toast point topped with a roasted red pepper stuffed with crab salad, hard boiled egg and pimientos. Delicious. The crab salad was really good and the sweet red pepper was a perfect little pocket for it. I was just a few bites in and already the servers came by with more pintxos: bacon, brie cheese and tomato; serrano ham, cheese and potato. The taste of the bacon and tomato was great, but the bacon was a crispy, curly strip which was a little hard to eat when it's served on top of crunchy bread – it fell apart a little too quickly. The serrano ham, cheese and potato was a good one; a bit surprising because the potato was cold (I don't know why but I expected it to be hot), but it had a nice mild flavor. There were lots of other pintxos that went around all night, and they proved to be a big hit with everyone, especially us; did I mention I think we had 16 toothpicks?
Honestly, I could have filled up on sangrias and pintxos alone (and I will probably come back to do just that), but I felt like I had to try an entree. We were pretty full, so we decided to split the paella de carne. Served over saffron rice, little cubes of tender chicken and pork are tossed with bell pepper, peas and artichokes. I love paella because to me, it's like Spanish risotto; any type of creamy rice with vegetables and meat is ok with me, and this one was good, but it was a bit salty. I have to say I think the real draw to this restaurant is the authentic feel; it's just a very cool atmosphere to hang out with friends, sip sangria, and try a bunch of pintxos. And if you're there on a Thursday like we were, you can catch the live flamenco music and dancing. Be warned though, it can get a bit loud especially if you're close to the stage, so if you're looking to have intimate conversation, I would say go elsewhere (or sit in the front), but if you're looking for a fun vibe and a feast for the senses, then Lizarran is the perfect escape from the daily grind.