Another point in favor of the tapas format, besides the whole "make your own tasting menu" thing? They make for an ideal excuse to hold a table (or a bar stool) for an extra-long dinner. You can order some plates, eat some plates, chat for a bit, order some plates, eat some plates, chat some more, order some more plates...
That's one of the reasons I had such a good time at Tia Pol the other night, dining and talking and dining and talking and reconnecting with my old friend Nanna. The other source of pleasure was Tia Pol's food. Or I should say, two-thirds of Tia Pol's food.
Nanna and I wound up getting eight different items from the menu, including dessert, five of which I enjoyed very much, three of which were essentially ruined by a heavy hand in the kitchen. Take the Huevos Rellenos (please!): three creamy deviled eggs "al pimentón de la vera" (basically chili powder), which would have been more than enough flavor as is, but then someone in the kitchen added so much dijon mustard to the mix that that's all we could taste.
Or the Laminas de Setas special, a potentially delicious oyster-mushroom carpaccio topped with manchego and marconas... and so much raw garlic that we couldn't even finish the plate. Our other special, the Chopitos, or fried baby squid with sea salt, also had potential—and, in fact, several pieces were exceptionally oceanic and tender—but as Nanna pointed out, the dish felt like it had been cooked sometime before, then reheated, which only emphasized the blandness of the batter.
But there were excellent plates to be had here, too. We both found the Garbanzos Fritos totally addictive: salty, warm, spicy and with a surprisingly airy crunch. The best dish of the night might have been the Montadito de Crema, a wonderfully intense fava bean puree sprinkled with buttery beyos cheese on two slices of toast.
Also first-rate was the Pinchos Morunos, two rich and juicy lamb skewers jutting from a hunk of bread. And the tender Txipirones en su Tinta—squid in its ink with a small mound of lemony, parsleyed rice—is definitely worth a try if only for the black, briney sauce, which we greedily sopped up with a requested basket of bread. The dessert, too, I would consider a success: a moist and crunchy almond torte (Torta de Santiago) in a swath of dulce de leche and partnered with a scoop of mystery flavor ice cream which, frankly, contributed not much more than "cold" to the dish.
Tia Pol is a sliver of a place in Chelsea, on Tenth Avenue between 21st and 22nd Streets, and it gets crowded. When I arrived at 6:15 on a Monday evening, two bar stools were the only seats to be had. When we left at 9:00, the wait for a table had to have been 45 minutes.