In mid-October when Bocca and Cacio e Pepe owner Alessandro Peluso opened up Palo Cortado with Alessandro Piliego, former general manager of The House, the local food blogs all agreed it was a good space to grab a glass of wine while you waited to get into your real destination, the neighboring Buttermilk Channel, Frankies Spuntino or Prime Meats. But, after two months of slinging delicate plates of classic Spanish fare, Chef Jimmy Stafford has brought the tapas restaurant into its own by making it a place to hunker down for a long, cozy, satisfying meal.
As soon as you enter the roomy, darkwooded restaurant, the desire to wrap your hands around a glass of vino tinto hits home. And somehow, despite the tall chairs and rough, raw wood tables, it feels like a good place to curl up with a heavy book or to fall into deep conversations.
Named after a rare variety of sherry, Palo Cortado serves three glasses of its namesake; a 20-year Wellington ($11), a 30-year Muy Viejo Apostoles ($16) or the Marques de Rodil ($10); as well as 10 other types of sherry. Beyond that, the restaurant has a handful of beers and an extensive wine list, all Spanish. On a recent, frosty night, I ordered a bottle of MCS 2008 Jumilla blend ($32), a light, plummy wine made with equal parts Monastrell, Cabernet and Syrah. It went down so smoothly, my group easily downed two bottles between three people in no time.
It helped that the wine went exceptionally well with our first round of tapas, a not-atall-oily pile of perfectly cubed patatas bravas ($4), sweet and savory piquillo rellenos ($9), and the delightful croquetas ($7). The rellenos were a take on the classic tuna-stuffed roasted red pepper tapas commonly found in Spanish cuisine, but instead of fish, they contained shredded chicken with a light cheese and were spiked with a fluffy white bean puree and crunchy pumpkin seeds. We were equally impressed with the croquetas, though the goat cheese with almonds and truffle honey topped the creamy jamon and bacalao, or the codfish, which is a Spanish staple.
As the first round warmed us up, we decided to go with some cold tapas next. The carpaccio de salmon ($10) had a subtle smokiness that mixed nicely with the fresh horseradish crme, though we all agreed the fish could have been cut thinner. Every dish was plated exceptionally well, balancing color and shapes, but the one that stood out the most was the gambas en salsa verde ($9), a quartet of firm shrimp laden with chunks of avocado, discs of dried chorizo and green sauce. Though it looked perfect and the spicy chorizo blended well with the cool seafood, the cracker like texture of the meat was out of place with the softness of the other ingredients.
The best deal in the house is found with the charcuteria y quesos menu (3 for $15 or 6 for $25), which offers four choices each of Spanish meat and cheeses in portions more than adequate. We tried the sharp and smoky Idiazabal, firm and creamy Ovin which paired nicely with the quince jam on the sideand the luxurious, melt-in-yourmouth Jamn Ibrico, which was aged 24 months and comes from the famous Iberian black pigs.
To mix things up, we tried the pan con tomate ($4), which is served hot, with the tomatoes nicely mashed to make a spread with a heavy garlic kick. Make sure to save room for dessert, the light and fluffy house made churros ($6) are excellent, especially when paired with the warm, sinful chocolate cinnamon sauce. There was so much of the sauce left over, I couldn’t help but dip my fingers into until the server took it away.
Service, by the way, was excellent. Even when the place filled up with people our waitress made sure we were set with food, water and wine. Dirty plates were taken right away, and the staff was as warm as the decor.
No longer a place to simply warm up, Palo Cortado should be considered a destination.
520 Court St. (betw. Huntington & Nelson Sts.), Brooklyn, 718-407-0047.