The last time I went to La Nacional, hidden in the basement of the Spanish Benevolent Society, it was several years ago with a group of eight or so friends for a Secret Santa exchange dinner. After making our way through plate after plate of different tapas, washing it all down with pitchers of red and white sangria, we decided to put in an order for the house paella. When the server asked "How many are eating?" we said eight, thinking he was inquiring how many new plates to bring out, and not knowing we had just asked for eight full orders. What came to the table at the end of the meal was a giant pan of paella nearly three feet across, costing a pretty penny. We barely made a dent…luckily paella still tastes pretty good as leftovers.
There again a few weeks ago for dinner, RO and I were smarter. I wasn't that hungry since I had had a late lunch, so we decided to simply go with three tapas plus one paella to share.
The sauteed mushrooms were meaty and flavorful, but the pincho moruno—on the menu as "Spanish kebab"—was uninteresting and a little dry. A lot like your average chicken street meat kebab, both in presentation and taste.
However the croquetas were terrific, beautifully crisp and greaseless on the outside and filled with a creamy potato and fish mixture. I almost wanted to ask for another order, but we had our final dish coming…
The fideua, a noodle-based paella paired with fish and seafood. Despite some tougher pieces of shellfish scattered on top, I liked this dish a lot, especially the crispy bits of noodles stuck to the bottom and sides of the pan. It was a little oily so I couldn't eat too much of it, but what I had was packed with flavor and quite delicious.
La Nacional is one of those great, sort-of hidden gems of New York City, but there has been some talk recently about the place being in danger of closing, which would be a sad day if that really does happen. I haven't always liked everything I've ordered there, but I've always left the place feeling like I've been in another country for a little while. And everyone knows it's nice to have a place to get away.