Spanish food is making quite a resurgence in the New York dining scene. Just a couple years ago, we had our first real paella in the United States at Tertulia. Since then, impressive Spanish eateries have cropped up in almost every neighborhood, treating New Yorkers to the often-neglected cuisine. Cata, short for “Catalan,” the people of the Barcelona-centric region of Spain, is one of those places.
A first glance at Cata’s dizzying array of menu categories and dishes, it is easy to get confused: there are no fewer than 10 menu categories with half a dozen dishes within each category. Best to order a drink first.
On that front, Cata boasts an impressive collection of a dozen or more variations of the gin & tonic, including several exotic flavors, along with all the artisan, Brooklyn-based tonic waters there are.
Try the lemongrass or kaffir lime leaf—the Thai flavor you’d recognize from many Thai curries—for a refreshing summer cocktail with just the right about of bite. (Cata claims to offer a G&T with the kaffir limes themselves, though on two separate occasions my waiter said it was available, only to come back later and report to the contrary. I hope that’s not a trend.) Extra tonic comes alongside the cocktail so you can top yourself up after the first few, strong sips.
Okay, now back to the menu.
From the montaditos (“snacks”) section, we couldn’t resist ordering pan con tomate, the addicting Spanish tomato-garlic bread (our recipe here) that I order almost anywhere I see it. This version came with some assembly required: sections of crispy bread were topped with garlic oil and served with a dish of crushed tomatoes, along with some flaky salt.
Add all three together for the perfect “bread” to whet our appetite . . . for pintxos! As long-term readers of New York Food Journal know, we have a fine affinity for pintxos, the Basque-country tapas. A selection of egg-based pintxos, including a play on the eggs benedict, with a fried quail egg, over a thin slice of chroizo on top of a hash brown, was the best of the bunch, showcasing the classic combination of potato, egg, and pig that we have enjoyed all over Spain.
The bombas—deep fried serrano ham and manchego in a spicy tomato sauce were also enjoyable (how could they not be?)—though less creative. Chickpea fritters with mint and chili, unfortunately, were a bit dry, needing considerably more of both mint and chili.
The larger plates are divided into, among other categories, “Rice & Pasta,” “Land,” and “Sea.” From the land, a deliciously creative, if disjointed, skirt steak concoction rivaled the paella as the best dish we tried. Layers of seemingly contradictory flavors somehow melded together: crunchy kimchi-studded rice, topped with chimichurri-marinated skirt steak, and, on top of that, a perfectly fried egg. The seemingly organized plating of the dish comes apart almost immediately, once the egg yolk was broken. (The egg is a $2 optional addition to the dish, which should not be offered without it.) Adding kimchi to a fried rice cake is certainly an experiment, but actually works here, and showcases the chef’s creative touch.
From the sea, try the carpaccio of sea bass, featuring Espelette pepper, our favorite French Basque country spice, which works especially well for fish carpaccio (see our recipe: here). This dish falls into the category of “not pretty, but tastes great.” A thin layer of white sea bass hugs the plate, topped with crunchy crackling, and a generous amount of Espelette pepper, providing a touch of spice to the contrasting soft and crunchy textures.
Alongside these dishes, we ordered an excellent assortment of sauteed wild mushrooms from the “Vegetables” section. Perfectly cooked, they were combined with thinly sliced shallots, and a hit of red wine vinegar. Simple-looking, but complex in flavor.
Time for another G&T. The blood orange provided just the right amount of sweetness.
Eventually came the paella, with large head-on shrimps, thick slices of chorizo, and interestingly enough, whole chicken wings. The rice had superb char, especially the socarrat, the almost-burned rice that sticks to the bottom of the pan, rivaling (though not surpassing), the paella we had at Tertulia. The chicken wings were a fun touch, though had to be eaten separately.
For dessert, try the traditional Spanish torrija or far more interesting the apple crostana, with ice cream.
New York, NY 10002
Recommended Dishes: Pan con Tomate ($4); Bombas ($2/pc); Quail Eggs Benedicts ($3/pc); Mushrooms ($9); Paella with chorizo, shrimp, and chicken wings ($25/48); Carpaccio of sea bass ($12); Skirt Steak ($15+$2 for the egg).