It's easy to be seated immediately at even the hottest no-reservation place in town... all you need is the willingness to eat dinner at, say, 5:30. Which I totally have, and so was able to waltz right in and get a table at Boqueria a couple of Fridays ago, just two days after Frank Bruni had two-starred their tapas in the Times.
I've always been vaguely suspicious of tapas places, thinking they're a sucker's bet... a calculated way to get people drinking and ordering round after round of these tiny plates until you've pretty much doubled what your food bill would have been had you just had an entree somewhere else. I guess I would still call a mediocre tapas spot a rip-off... but fortunately, Boqueria is miles from mediocre. And so as I sat there with my feet comfortably dangling from my tall chair at my tall table in this lovely room with its excellent lamps and friendly servers, I said to myself, because there was no one else to talk to, "Scott, treat tapas as a mini tasting menu, get four 'courses' for around $40 with tip, and enjoy..." And so I did.
My first two dishes—both $6 tapas-sized—were fabulous. The dates stuffed with almonds and cabrales (a blue-ish cheese) and then wrapped in bacon were plump, incredibly rich and, given the intensity of the ingredients, remarkably balanced. Grilled lamb skewers, marinated in lemon and cumin and served on crunchy bread, were beautifully charred, alive with flavor. I kicked it up a bit for my third course, getting a "Media Racion"—about the size of a generous appetizer, for $11—of sardines prepared two ways over fingerling potatoes and heirloom tomatoes. The flash-grilled fish was possibly the best sardine I've ever eaten: moist, firm, and amazingly subtle in its flavor. The fried swimmer was considerably less subtle, but still quite tasty, and both worked well with their accompanying "atoes". My final course was another $6 portion, the chorizo and fried quail egg on toast, which was delicious in a breakfasty way (if you think you'll like this dish, you definitely will), but just as an aside, I must say I 've never had a quail egg and thought "sooooooo much better than what a chicken lays!" Definitely looked cute on my plate, though.