Review: Flan y Ajo

Little place, little dishes
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  February 26, 2013

TASTY TAPAS A plate of pintxo lomo de puerco.

It's a tiny place, which is appropriate. After all, Flan y Ajo is attempting to re-create the sort of little hole-in-the-wall you might come across while strolling side streets in some city in Spain.

Diminutive size is also appropriate because of what they serve: tapas, more commonly called pinchos, in Spain and pintxos in Basque provinces. The small dishes of various delicacies are designed to be sampled en masse, the table before you spread with them, perhaps accumulating into a substantial meal. There is a tradition in Spain of groups of people strolling from bar to bar in conversation, sipping wine and brandy, and chatting over tapas. The Joy of Cooking informs us that the word derives from tapar, "to cover."

In the European tradition of people eating and drinking standing up at tall tables and counters, there are no regular tables here, just counters and banquettes at the street side window that will accommodate two couples, next to a single seat, with an armrest mini-table between them. The food preparation area counter has four stools, decoratively rough-hewn, but the counter across from it is stand-up only. The drinks chalkboard — five coffees, seltzer, and soda — is pretty brusque about your not requesting more seats: "No assholes!" is how that's emphasized.

Our midday chalkboard menu had five cold tapas and five hot, along with four bocadillos (sandwiches). Below that were cheeses and embutidos, which is a term for sausages but also includes here jamón serrano ($10), Spain's proud answer to prosciutto. There are different offerings listed in the evenings, mostly seafood.

Right off let me praise the gambas al ajillo ($6.50). I don't think it indicates a troubled psychological state for me to find a simple joy in what these three succulent shrimp before me had to go through. There they are, drowning in olive oil beside decoratively sliced garlic cloves, their rows of little legs and heads left intact, their little beady eyes staring up in mute . . . accusation? Supplication? These juicy suckers gave their lives for my gustatory appreciation, so the least I can do is go to the mess of plucking them apart and piling up paper napkins.

My other hot dish was huevos al plato ($5.50), two sunnyside-up eggs surrounded by disks of delicious Spanish sausage. And I had to have a bocadillo, the jamón y manchego ($7) sandwich catching my eye as a Spanish variation on ordinary ham and cheese, the meat a rich red and quite tasty.

And then cold tapas, all of which we tasted and enjoyed. Boquerones ($3), three Mediterranean anchovies, delicate and salty, served with olive oil crackers made on the premises. Pa amb tomàquet ($2.50), slices of bread lightly coated with a tomato and garlic paste. Sardinas ($4), atop that bread grilled this time. Pintxo bonito ($7), the chunks of white tuna topped with raw onions and criss-crossed with strips of roasted red pepper. Tortilla Española ($3), two wedges of the Spanish national dish, a frittata the heavy on potatoes. The cheese platter is also a popular treat, $4-$11 for one to three selections, from Manchego to idiazabal, from the milk of La Mancha's Manchega sheep and Basque sheep, respectively.

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