El Porrón, is a unique Spanish Tasca on the Upper East Side of New York City that has already developed a reputation as one of the must-visit restaurants in the city.
It is a project of Mario Bermeo, owner of La Viña Spanish and Italian Restaurant in the Poconos, NY, and Chef/Owner Gonzalo “Mr G” Bermeo. Front-of-house director is Diego, Mr. G’s son.
Diego is one of the most knowledgeable people you will meet when it comes to Spanish wines and is more than willing to give you an education in the finer aspects of pairing each dish with a glass from their extensive wine list. El Porrón serves only Spanish wines. Over twenty wines are served by the glass, representing almost every region of Spain. “By serving so much variety by the glass,” says Diego, “we can carefully pair our tapas to a particular wine. “It enhances the culinary experience.” It is also an excellent way to increase profits.
El Porrón gets its name from the Porrón, a glass flask used by Catalan generals during the late 19th and early 20th centuries to share wine with their soldiers. One can imagine that carrying glassware for every soldier would have been impossible for an army and the standard issue drinking cups may not make for the most appetizing way of drinking wine. The Porrón, on the other hand, with its long goose-neck and hand-blown elegance shows off the liquor in an attractive manner. The wine is poured from the long neck in an impressive stream directly into the mouth making for a hygienic and fun way to share this valuable liquor.
The restaurant El Porrón has a number of porróns on display and photos demonstrating their use line the walls. Diego, the son of chef/owner Mr. G says that El Porrón has been hosting porrón drinking contests.
The restaurant includes a generous bar leading to mainly two tops which are gladly moved together for larger groups. It can be noisy, but the noise emerges from conversation, not any pumped music, which is exactly why people come here. I was impressed by the friendly crowd and conversations about wine pairings and menu selections easily spilled over from table to table. We did not engage in political conversation, as one would in Spain. The New York culture does not really encourage it, but perhaps if we had taken on the porrón, things may have been different!
El Porrón opened in August of 2009. An unqualified success, the “secret” to attracting and retaining customers, says Diego is “a cozy and friendly atmosphere paired with uncompromising food and an attention to pairing food with the right wines.
The 65-seat restaurant consists mainly of closely spaced low tops. The arrangement is intimate yet the busy restaurant drowns out adjacent conversations. A 14-seat bar is matched by high tops that parallels the bar. When larger groups are hosted, low tops are readily moved together to accommodate the group. Each table turns at least once a night.
The food leans towards seafood with an emphasis on a range of specially prepared sauces. “Our cuisine is mostly about the sauce,” says Diego. Veal meatballs, for example, with leak, carrot and celery stew are a favorite. Also notable are the pan seared sea scallops on white asparagus sauce. All sauces are made in the restaurant from carefully guarded recipes. “Having something unique is very important,” says Diego.
Enjoy octopus, tiger shrimp, sea scallops and more in one evening. Top it off with one of the excellent paella’s (order the paella before you order anything else since they require 40 minutes to prepare) - but are well-worth the wait. In any case, the wait is not too long when you include some tapas, wine, and good conversation in the mix.
El Porrón attracts guests with some social networking (mostly on Yelp) but they rely primarily on word of mouth and a placard on the sidewalk on what is a very busy street in New York City. Specials currently include a social hour from 3 to 6 where wine is $5.00 and any three tapas is available for just $18.00.
The Spanish say that one should never eat without drinking wine, one should never drink wine without eating, and one should never eat or drink alone!. El Porrón is definitely the place to linger and enjoy the flavors of Spain.