520 Court Street, Carroll Gardens
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 L's
Why is it that Brooklyn isn't teeming with Spanish tapas bars? On the streets of Barcelona or San Sebastian, you can experience the most delicious days of your life eating all of your meals on small plates. The best bites are simple to prepare—tender baby squid sauted with a tiny mound of crisp, sea-salted chickpeas; a crunchy piece of bread topped with crema, cured salmon, honey, and vinegar; a spoonful of braised rabbit shoulder over figs and apricot puree. Why can't we find such pleasures around here?
We've got the ingredients and the foot-traffic, but maybe we can't get the atmosphere right—elderly, black-beret-wearing Basque men, shrouded in cigarette smoke, are more difficult to import than, say, razor clams and blood sausage. Or maybe our favorite Spanish restaurants suffer because they can't push a brisk take-out business—tapas aren't meant for numb speed-eating on the couch—they deserve your undivided attention.
This brings us to Carroll Gardens newcomer Palo Cortado. Located down in the depths of Court Street—on the same block as Buttermilk Channel—Palo has all the elements of a traditional Spanish tapas bar. The lights are low, the walls are dark, and the paintings are framed in gaudy gold. Chairs line the bar, a row of tall two-tops are pushed against the wall, and a pair of large, bar-height tables seat groups near the front window. Hard liquor is not on the menu, but they've got a dozen sherries, a handful of draft beers, a selection of affordable Spanish wines, and wine cocktails.
It's a great place to grab a drink while you're waiting for a table at Buttermilk, but it's also a good place to cobble together a dinner of shareable small plates. Crisp, cubed patatas bravas are dotted with garlicky aioli and spicy Rioja sauce. The jamon and bacalao croquetas are textbook-good, but the goat cheese croqueta with truffle-honey is even better. Here, pulpo is cooked just right—but the tender octopus could stand heavier seasonings. Drawing from a Moroccan influence, the lamb meatballs with cucumber sauce come four to an order—small in size but big on flavor. Small portions are a blessing, though, because the best item is on the dessert menu. The churros, which come with a cinnamon-laced chocolate dipping sauce, are made-to-order, creamy-yet-crispy, and all-around divine. Even if you've only got time for wine and dessert, you won't leave disappointed.
Photos by Ashley Minette