La Mujer Gala
665 Vanderbilt Avenue, Prospect Heights
The tiny new Prospect Heights tapas spot La Mujer Gala inhabits the space of the previously longstanding Prospect Heights Italian restaurant Aliseo, and it looks very much like it. The floral wallpaper and formal mantle lamps can feel like a Victorian bedroom, but don’t let such stuffiness keep you away. If anything, the more traditional décor speaks to a core of authentic and expertly rendered Spanish bar-food classics.
The two most famous, generally tasty tapas on the menu are actually the least impressive of the lot, and they’re still pretty good: the Spanish tortilla, a stacked pie of slivered potatoes-cum-frittata, and the fried, breadcrumb-crusted, bechamel sauce-filled croquetas. The deviled eggs, stuffed with a chunky yet creamy mixture of roasted pork belly and scallions, easily beats out the best from any Southern-inflected restaurant. The chorizo stewed in Cava, fresh herbs and roasted garlic fills the teensy den with an inescapably good garlicky aroma, and the white gazpacho sauce beneath a bed of sherry-marinated mackerel is really a testament to what greatness stale bread can achieve. You should really try every tapas available, including the specials (which recently included a stewed cuttlefish so tender as to become the texture of buttery, cooked mushrooms, in a viscous pink sauce of its own proteins).
If you’ve come in a group of three, you should go for a whole bottle of wine. They’re solely from Spain, but you can chat up the knowledgeable waitresses for tasting notes if you’re not up to speed (there were only three waitresses working the nights we visited, one of whom was Executive Chef-Owner Jennifer Cole-Ruiz, who spent years working in restaurants in Spain and won an episode of Chopped; another of the three was her wife). Most hover around $30 for regions and grapes from throughout Spain, not just Rioja. For $6, you can enjoy a fruity Sangria instead, which our waitress recommended we try out in the bubbly version with Cava. And the Jerez (aka “Sherries”) are a must-have with desserts, which are given equal attention to detail and homespun flavor here (recommended: a boozy banana tatin with homemade ice cream).
As for beers, you’ll have to fare with one of a few crisp, sparkling Spanish lagers like the refreshing, Kolsch-like Alhambra Especial and its dark, brooding Dunkel-like sister the Alhambra Negro. (There’s really no other type of beer in Spain.) These cleanse the palate for more deliciousness to come, unlike the wines. Go for them if you’re in an easy-drinking mode with a few snacks, like the fried purple potatoes with Canary Island green pesto. Or opt for a velvety smooth Tempranillo instead, and see how it melds with the flavors it meets in your mouth. This is all part of the delightfully choosy task of doing tapas—even in Brooklyn, if you can’t fly to Barcelona.
Photo by Gabe Collazo