While El Quinto Pino does not locate itself as near the epicentre as the other former restaurants and historical sites that pertain to the once Little Spain colony in lower Manhattan, you won’t have to go far on your journey for Spanish culture and cuisine when checking out this small spot of a modern restaurant dedicated to bringing to the area its own interpretation. Just 12 blocks north of Little Spain’s heart at West 12th st, El Quinto Pino still remains right in the heart of Chelsea, at 401 W24th st. Although the restaurant’s beginnings were just only about a decade ago (may feel like an eternity for some), it is no stranger to experiencing the ever-changing landscape of the Chelsea/West Village area since the early 20th century. Just a block from the immortal High Line, the Spanish restaurant just off the corner of 9th avenue is surrounded by a primarily residential area of tall apartment buildings that camouflages its rather small “hole-in-the-wall” storefront, creating a cozy ambience on the exterior that presents itself as inviting. In fact, El Quinto Pino is on the street level of a 6-floor apartment building that was built in 1910. Although the tapas-restaurant did not come to fruition as a result of Little Spain, it is part of the trend of several newer Spanish restaurants in the West Village and Chelsea areas within the 21st century that are catering to a newer demographic of younger, upper-middle, non-Spanish people from different walks of life that are moving into the neighborhood, but are simultaneously taking part in preserving the impact of Little Spain a century ago that is known by a select few of its inhabitants.
The inspiration for the restaurant’s naming,“El Quinto Pino”, comes from a saying in Spain that is considered as the equivalent of saying “the middle of nowhere” when referring to the location of a place in English. Given that the restaurant is oddly located in the midst of a residential area, the name to some might be fitting. The naming of the restaurant in Spanish is an interesting topic to delve into because it brings up the question of the performance of a culture for a widely non-Spanish audience. While it is unknown exactly what convinced the owners to name it “El Quinto Pino”, the intangible name strays away from the usual generic and conventional nomenclature of restaurants for Spanish cuisine, which in turn gives the restaurant a vibe of intrigue and exoticness for patrons in the area looking to try something new. While the restaurant is dedicated mostly multiregional small plates that are called tapas, the restaurant has a Basque foundation in its theme.
Located in a secluded and subtle manner in a Chelsea residential neighborhood, patrons are welcomed to El Quinto Pino with a rather narrow storefront of a tall glass, black wooden door surrounded by a brick exterior of the apartment building. On the upper right side, you will see simple maroon square flag that says in a fancy script, El Quinto Pino. According to a restaurant review on The New York Times written by Pete Wells, customers are immediately met with a “sardine-can tapas bar” that is of white marble and curved in its shape. In terms of the interior of the place, it is surrounded by white walls, with mirrors on the side of it and a chandelier lowly hanging in the middle of the area once you immediately walk through the door. In terms of the decor, white/dark brown interior scheme with an air of austerity and simplicity from the few ornaments creates an ambience of “authenticity”, as if you were stepping into an old tapas bar in San Sebastian after spending your evening in Chelsea.
When the tapas bar opened in 2007, the owners were presented with an issue as the clientele starting increasing: the lack of seating and tight space that led to overcrowding. Given the initial 400 square foot space of where the bar existed, people who couldn’t find barstools had to stand in a tightly-packed area, making their visit to the place short-lived. That’s why, in 2013, the owners took the initiative to rent the apartment next door to the restaurant where they could have a space to create seating for patrons who wanted to enjoy tapas and drinks while still having the comfort of indulging in conversations with friends after work or on the weekends. This area has become to be known by the area as El Comedor, Spanish for “dining table”. As the restaurant’s website describes it,
“Furnished with midcentury, custom, and vintage furniture, El Comedor is a comfortable oasis for small and large groups who prefer to sit or reserve a table in advance.”
Up to this point, we discussed other integral elements that allow El Quinto Pino to be a success in the Chelsea neighborhood except for the names of the people that made it happen: Alex Raij and Eder Montero. Before opening the restaurant in 2007, the chef couple had already achieved culinary success outside of New York City. Eder Montero is originally from Bilbao in the Basque Country, and Alex Raij is a Chicago native who hails from Argentine roots, but the two have been a powerful duo in their excursion here in New York, being the proprietors of three restaurants: El Quinto Pino, Txikito, and La Vara. The best part of it is that all 3 places serve different styles and influences of Spanish cuisine, highlighting the historical richness of the culture.
Outside of the daily operations of their three restaurants, the couple recently published their recipe book dedicated to Basque cooking in 2016, called “The Basque Book: A Love Letter in Recipes from the Kitchen of Txikito”.
Menu & Pricing
It is important to know before going to El Quinto Pino that you should not be expecting a full course meal at your usual restaurant. In essence, the place is a tapas bar that dedicates its menu to mainly drinks and small plates of sandwiches and appetizers to eat as you go. The menu is divided in Brunch and Dinner sessions, in which each showcase a selection of small plates under the categories Aperitivos, Tapas Frías, Tapas Calientes, and Bocadillos. During brunch, you couldn’t go wrong with trying the restaurant’s customer favorite, the Uni Panini, a sea urchin sandwich, but you could stick with the classic Patatas Bravas, rough-cut potatoes with aioli.
For a weekend dinner, you could try a variety of plates, starting with the famous Tortilla Española that transcends time to Pan amb Tomaca, a Catalan plate of garlic and tomato rubbed bread with olive oil and sea salt. As tapas were meant to be paired with something, El Quinto Pino offers drinks such as Sangria, white wine, sparkling wine, and sherries. Given the area in which the restaurant is currently situated in, a typical outing during the weekend will probably cost you around $20-30 for a drink and 2 plates of tapas.
While Eder Montero and Alex Raij might be heavily influenced by their Basque cuisine, they don’t shy away from making El Quinto Pino as multiregional as possible, providing customers with the best and essential tapas that Spain has to offer from its various locations.