Observations from my first visit
José Andrés came onto my radar when molecular gastronomy was still all the rage and his restaurant, The Bazaar, at the SLS hotel in Los Angeles received four stars from the LA Times in 2009. I think I visited not too long after and while I enjoyed it, I wasn’t as bowled over as I was with Grant Achatz’s Alinea in Chicago. I followed the growth of his empire in the U.S., watched him make guest appearances on TV shows, and his tireless charitable activism.
I prepared for my visit to his Hudson Yards project, Mercado Little Spain by reading Eater critic Robert Sietsema’s early review.
Atmosphere and design: Unlike most of the rest of Hudson Yards, this place feels warm and happy. The food stalls are splashed with red; some walls have murals, and many of the servers wear red tee-shirts. Also, no dark mood lighting or unfriendly fluorescence. Fortunately, the one light setting is on cheerful. Also, even when almost every part of Mercado is bustling, I can hear the wait staff and I can hold conversation in a regular voice.
Tapas: It was before 8pm on a weekday and the Mercado was full with every seat taken and most of the standing tables occupied. Preferring not to be at a restaurant to allow for some food stall roaming, we had to make a few rounds before we spied two seats open at La Barra. We each settle for a glass of wine (a rosé, and a white wine from Catalonia) and two tapas (very crisped bread topped with tomato seeds and sardines; and a tortilla topped with white shrimp). Tapas number one was simple and tasty, and we joked we could buy the three ingredients from the market and make a platter at home. Tapas number two was simple but not so tasty. The tortilla is like a thin egg crepe layer which was asked to be cooked to medium; and topped with six small shrimp. I could not taste any seasoning on anything. And honestly, the soft on soft textures did not work and we did not finish this small plate. The two drinks, two tapas with tip came to $60.
We headed to the Bravas food stall, ordered patatas bravas with aioli ($8), and sidled up to a standing table and speared the crunchy potato cubes with our toothpicks. Hot and crispy and hit the spot.
We decided for one more drink and seeing two open stools at Vino, we took our seats on the corner. Turns out the menu as identical to La Barra. This time we settled on chorizo wrapped in thin potato which was basically like a potato chip rolling a chorizo tootsie roll. And it tasted like you expected: spicy wrapped in crunchy. The two glasses and the tapas and tip came to about $42.
Market: This pickings are pretty small so one cannot compare it to Eataly. It is akin to a gift shop compared to someplace like Despaña in Soho.
Overall: I may try to visit one of the restaurants but my overall first impression is that MLS is definitely a fun place for drinks with nibbles. It is on the pricey side but the pickings are slim in that neighborhood. The food feels kinda secondary but it does seem like a work in progress so definitely worth another gander.
Side note: While probably not in the purview of Mercado, the access to and from the Hudson Yards shops is pretty depressing. The red carpet looks like a remnant with a few posters hanging on bare walls to provide some connection and transition. Also, for some reason, fire drills were being conducted without notice so the very sturdy looking gate was down. This was all the more annoying because the escalators were running so you could get downstairs but were only met with a closed gate. Fortunately, a security guard noticed this and keyed the door gate to reopen, and we were met with folks on the other side wondering what was going on.
Mercado Little Spain, 10 Hudson Yards, New York, NY 10001