Given the unforeseen obstacles overcome on their way to opening Casa Pomona on Manhattan's Upper West Side, restaurateurs Sid Gupta and Marion Maur might have felt they'd opened a Pandora's box rather than a restaurant named for the Roman goddess of abundance.
Gupta and Maur, however, are the successful partners who've engineered the remarkable thirty-year run of neighborhood favorite Pappardella - and neither Hurricane Sandy nor a building flood could deter the intrepid restaurateurs from fulfilling their dream of offering Spanish hospitality on the Upper West Side.
"A true labor of love," says Gupta, who christened the restaurant for the goddess whose name is etched into the limestone building. Often depicted with a cornucopia of fruit, Pomona is the metaphorical hostess for a restaurant that derives inspiration from the abundance of seasonal Hudson Valley produce.
Located on a block bustling with popular restaurants with late-night crowds that spill onto the sidewalk, Casa Pomona captures a similar conviviality associated with tapas bars in Sitges, the all-night town south of Barcelona. Pomona's front room features handcrafted communal tables, all carved from the same cherry tree from upstate New York. Candlelight and sunflowers are complemented by a hand-painted mural of the Spanish countryside. A dining room in the back (beyond a stunning spiral staircase that leads downstairs to the kitchen and restrooms) is outfitted with banquettes and a homey decor that evokes a country house in rural Spain.
Casa Pomona's executive chef is Don Flores, who has worked alongside chefs Bobby Flay, David Chang, Masahara Morimoto, and Albert Adria at such esteemed restaurants as Momofuku Ssam Bar, Morimoto, and Mercat. "When we tasted [Don's] food," says Maur, "we knew we'd found a chef that could execute exciting, yet approachable Spanish cuisine."
Flores' forte is tapas, a passion which was fueled while traveling through Barcelona with tapas expert, Jaime Reixach. Often called pinchos or pintxos, in reference to the toothpick that holds the ingredients together, the tapas at Casa Pomona form the backbone of the well-edited menu and they enable as leisurely and conversational a meal as you might find while on vacation in Barcelona.
The cocktail menu features a variety of gin-and-tonics, alongside sangrias and a selection of sherry. Sip a glass of cava with some of the house-cured olives and then order a Sandeman fino to complement the white anchovies with pickled pepper. The pan con tomate is nicely charred and dotted with fresh garlic.
One of the best parts of eating tapas for dinner is the manner in which time seems to wend like a lazy river. There's plenty of time to sip a shitake mushroom soup with parsnip sofrito, followed by a pescado crudo of fresh salmon cured with the juice of oranges and lemons.
Chef Flores uses produce, poultry, dairy and meat from various New York and Connecticut farms, including Taliaferro Farms, Fort HIll Farm, Farah's Farm, and Sport Hill Farm. A chilled almond and garlic gazpacho with roasted grape and olive oil is particularly redolent of the waning days of summer.
The grilled calamari tapas is enhanced with garlic, chili, and a salsa verde, which results in a small explosion of oceanic piquancy that lingers on the palate not unlike Wolfgang Puck's angry lobster with Szechuan chiles.
The staff at the front of the house wear black t-shirts that read EAT DRINK TAPAS, which for many people who love Spanish cuisine is probably the true holy trinity. An order of churros with spicy chocolate sauce and pecan buñuelos with caramel sauce is the sort of dessert that transports you back to your late-night revels in Madrid when you were younger and less calorie-averse.
In the coming weeks, Casa Pomona will open for brunch and lunch, with take-out and delivery soon to follow. For now, Casa Pomona remains open until 1 am, for those nights when what you need most is a taste of "la bella vida."