Thankfully, Spanish fare from Galicia is back in New York City. Tomiño Taberna Gallega has landed on Grand Street in Little Italy with food from the region in Northwestern Spain.
The restaurant has a dining room up a few steps in back with views of the kitchen. In front, an expansive barroom with tables pushed next to the open windows, which in fine weather sports a mural showing Gallegans (as Galicians are sometimes called) scouring the rocks in search of percebes — gooseneck barnacles. Alas, these barnacles haven’t made their way onto the menu yet, but other Galician standards are ably represented.
Galicia has a countryside relentlessly green and rocky, and fishing and farming are major industries. It’s always been poor, and its residents prone to emigrate, and thus they have formed far-flung communities in places like Argentina, the Dominican Republic, and the East Village — where for years, the club now known as Webster Hall was called Casa Galicia. Xunta, a nearby Galician tapas bar, closed in 2009.
The region is where the empanada was invented, in the form of a large pie filled with meat or seafood that’s cut into pieces before serving. On my visit, the pies at Tomiño were filled with salt cod and caramelized onions ($12), though the stuffing will vary. The more familiar hand-pie empanadas are also available ($8 for two), in this case filled with plain honest ground beef, reminding us of its familial connection with the Welsh pasty. (Historically, both Galicians and Welsh are of Celtic lineage.)
The octopus, a Gallegan obsession, is perfectly turned out, sliced into small coins, dusted with paprika and presented on toothpicks. The cephalopod is tender and slightly gooey — in a good way. Padron peppers, currently in season, are served sauteed until they blister with some green olive oil on the side. Callos, the classic chick pea and tripe stew, comes dotted with chorizo, though they did not contain enough tripe to my taste.
The grilled and lightly charred sardines are as fresh as can be ($14 for two), presented on a piece of cornbread that’s nothing like American cornbread. The ensalada San Simon is a fanciful invention of fennel, apples, lettuces, and pulled pork fried into crunchy shreds, from chef Lucia Freitas, whose main gig is in Santiago de Compostela, the capital of Galicia. Nice to have a consulting chef with some real Spanish firepower.
Then there are thumb-size chorizos brought to the table flaming in orujo, a high-octane grape brandy. Use the dense table bread to sop up the remaining juices in the bottom of the cast-iron skillet, noting that the presentation of Tomiño’s food in a variety of vessels is one of the more pleasing aspects of the restaurant.
Aside from some great food, the alcohol menu constitutes another lure of Tomiño. The vermouth list demands contemplation, but then there’s a choice of six gin and tonics, some invented cocktails, draft Galician beer, and a good collection of reds, whites, and roses, several from the nearby Basque region.
At the bottom of the one-page menu are five much bigger dishes that include a rice-and-seafood concoction that doesn’t try to be paella, a steamed hake with root vegetable puree, a chicken and macaroni casserole, and a dry aged ribeye steak that must have wandered onto the menu from another establishment. A friend and I picked bacalao con coliflor ($27), a béchamel-swamped casserole of fresh cod and cauliflower that also hid some potatoes. It made a stunning conclusion to the meal.