When you walk into Ladino, Midtown Manhattan’s new tapas bar, on a Saturday night you can’t help but notice the festive atmosphere. There is live music, a man in the corner hand rolling cigars, and even when the restaurant has just opened after Shabbat, it is filled with diners all talking and laughing in a way that suggests that they are not simply enjoying their meal but they are enjoying their evening. This may seem like a rather marginal distinction but it is one that I have come to recognize as the defining factor between a restaurant that you go to because it’s good and a restaurant that you go to because it’s a good time.
The spirit of Ladino is one that embodies that essence of Tapas, the food that it serves. Tapas, which originate as a form of Spanish cuisine, are a variety of appetizers or small snacks. These appetizers can range from something small and simple and delicious like Aceitunas (marinated olives) to dishes that are bold, complex and rich like Pato Adobado (duck breast with onions and peppers). In Spain, it is common for people to go on Tapas Bar crawls where they have a drink and a meal that moves progressively with each tapas bar they go to. Ladino takes that concept and applies it to their restaurant by offering a wide assortment of tapas along with an atmosphere that personifies the vivacity of a night out on a tapas crawl.
I began my meal at Ladino by trying their Guacamole and house tortilla chips. Without exaggeration, it was the best guacamole I have ever eaten. It was a simple creamy guacamole that was perfectly balanced with citric and salt and served beautifully in a stone bowl, but simple or not, it set the tone for the meal. That tone was simple but delicious food, nothing overly complex or confusing, no aioli or foam or other marvels conjured by chefs who consider themselves to be amongst the gastronomic elite. No, Ladino’s Chef and owner Alexandre Petard chooses to use his formidable cooking skills to provide cuisine that is delectable, immaculately prepared, and has a simple but enchanting quality that is a very rare find in today’s world of celebrity cooking.