Until recently, great tapas and heavenly Sangria were not among the culinary offerings of the Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill area.
Enter Palo Cortado, on Court Street, between Nelson and Huntington.
When a local café owner, Olga Shishko, of Karloff, told me she nearly died from pleasure when she tasted Palo Cortado’s white sangria, I had to visit. I’m glad I did.
Indeed, the white Sangria at Palo Cortado is something to write about. It is light, fresh and slightly sweet, with a sublime tanginess. It is served in a tiny carafe, with a slice of pickled ginger and lemon. It is fantastic. The restaurant also serves red Sangria.
But it’s not just Sangria that encouraged me to bring two large parties of people to Palo Cartado. That was the food, the candle-lit atmosphere and the service: exemplary and professional. It’s always the greatest feeling of satisfaction to bring a party of people somewhere and have them oooh and aah their way through a meal, and Palo Cortado did not disappoint.
The bar gives a feel of Spain–red, wooden, soulful, romantic–while the menu offers surprises not so much in offerings, but in how each dish is prepared. Pains are clearly taken to provide fresh, top quality ingredients and to put a twist on your run of the mill tapas.
Let’s start with the fried chick peas, which are not always offered. They are firm, spiced and easily addicting. The Boquerones en vinagra, marinated white anchovies with capers, garlic and parsley, are light and rich in flavor. The meat and cheese selection, at 3 for $15, is the perfect accompaniment to wine drinking. In our group of seasoned cheese eaters, the plate brought votes of excellence all around. Of particular quality was the Valdeon, a cow and goat milk blue cheese, creamy and expressive. The Ovin, also a cow and goat cheese, organic, carried a supple and slightly bitter flavor.
The patatas bravas, fried potatoes, are excellent, as were the albondigas de cordero, spiced lamb meatballs, with a mint cucumber yogurt, that harkens to gyros in flavor, yet carry the thick bite of a beefy meatball.
The croquetas are crisp and creamy inside; the goat cheese croquette is served with truffle honey for a hint of earthiness, while the Bacalao with green salsa had my friend, a bacalao lover, moaning in pleasure.
Palo Cortado opened in October, on the day of the big hail storm. It could have been an omen but of what, no one can be sure.
“We hoped it was a good luck sign,” said co-owner and manager Alessandro Piliego, a friendly man who has much to do with the charm of the place.
Piliego hails from Rome, and left his hometown at 16 to see the world. He travelled across Europe, working in Paris and London, toiled for Disney and even did a few gigs on cruise ships and in Australia and Mexico, always working in hotels and restaurants, before he settled in New York City. He went back to school and got a degree in hospitality management, and met his mentor, Roger Dagorn, former sommelier at Chanterelle’s, who set him on a course to study wine (Piliego is one class away from his master’s as a sommelier).
Piliego’s business partner, Alessandro Peluso, also from Rome, though they met in NYC (shall we call them the Allesandros di Roma?), owns two restaurants in Manhattan, Bocca, in Gramercy, and Cacio E Pepe, the first authentic Roman restaurant on the Lower East Side.
Prior to Palo Cortado, Piliego worked as General Manager and wine director at The House, a restored 1854 carriage house on 17th Street in the village, a sort of small plates wine bar that has been described as magical and has garnered rave reviews from the likes of Zagat’s and Frank Brun.
Living in Carroll Gardens for 8 years, Piliego said he always wanted to open a restaurant here.
“This is my first ownership. We wanted to do something more casual, that has an old-school feel, like the neighborhood, and fill a niche nobody was covering, Spanish tapas. Breaking all the laws of fine dining, we wanted something with a warm and personal vibe.”
The name Palo Cortado comes from a rare variety of sherry.
“There are not many around on the market, not many are available,” Piliego says.
His sangria y tapas bar features a very nice sherry selection. Piliego has 15 sherries by the glass, including four palo cortados, from $5 to $16 for a glass. His most rare is a 30-year-old palo cortado. Gaining in popularity is a hot toddy featuring the hard-to-obtain natural sherry, a “classic sherry cocktail,” Piliego says.
Piliego takes pains to ensure customers are treated like old friends.
“I am crazy happy,” Piliego says. “This is a big change from working in fine dining, in a stiff place, to working somewhere where I can show more warmth.”
Go there with your loved one or friends and you too will feel the warmth.
520 Court St., between Nelson and Huntington