Tia Pol’s pleasant petite plates.

Tia Pol, unlike most of the restaurants in this space, is THE HOTNESS right now. Seriously – two days ago, Erin of No Parachute waited 90 minutes for a table from 8:30, and I was expecting more of the same when my girlfriend and I arrived at about 8:00 yesterday evening.

I don’t know whether we were just lucky, or what, but we were seated in ten minutes.

(Erin’s response: “Damn you! TEN MINUTES! arghghghghg.”)

Yes, ten minutes. By the time we left, of course, it was packed. The early bird might not get the worm at the bottom of the mezcal bottle, but they also won’t get totally wasted at the bar while waiting for one of the tables to clear out (does this sentence make any sense?). The place is on the small side, and most tables seem to sit small quantities of people, so don’t bring a busload of tourists by to try the peppers. Small tangent, sorry – what was I saying?

Ah, yes. Tia Pol’s culinary charms. A lovely visual representation of some of the things we ate is here. Especially notice the “suckling pig with sherry and honey,” which was the budget-buster of the evening. At $28, it was quite similar to Uncle Bino’s pig knuckle, though, as it wasn’t a knuckle, it contained more meat. The skin was a bit more visually appealing, though, if unfortunately a little fattier and less flavorful. (By the way, I just remembered that I never reviewed Uncle Bino’s. That will need to be rectified.)

Without the $30 worth of pig and $12 worth of salt cod carpaccio (which may have been confused on preparation with the regular salt cod dish, but I’m pretty sure we paid for the more expensive of the two), the meal would have been a pretty good bargain (the cod was good, seemingly whipped with potatoes, but not THAT good). For example, my girlfriend’s favorite dish, which included chorizo and bittersweet chocolate mounted on bread, was available in a small portion for $3.50. Other dishes ranged between that figure and $11: the excellent squid in ink, for example, in which the inky sauce tasted faintly of brine and/or fresh clam chowder. It came with a bunker-shaped portion of rice which seemed to me to be a little sour.

We also liked the tortilla Espanola, which, after first sampling it in Rothenburg o.d. Tauber at a Goethe Institut cooking party* as prepared by a Spanish fellow student, has rapidly become a regular order of mine. Always appealingly bland in comparison to some of the more wildly flavored or textured tapas dishes (squid ink, party of two), the potato-y quiche can be relied upon to sate any picky eaters in the group. For the two of us, obviously, that wasn’t a problem, but it still was a nice dish.

My favorite, and of course the “buzz” dish of the restaurant, was the braised pepper assemblage. More or less explained in this entry on Gothamist, we found the peppers to be as addictive as any appetizer or early table arrival we’ve tasted in recent months. Depending on how deeply on the pepper you choose to bite, and how many seeds are left, you can get quite a jolt from inhaling one of these suckers.

At any rate, Tia Pol was a nice splurge. Was it genuinely “cheap,” as it was offered on the NY Metro “cheap” list that I’m theoretically also trying to complete? I suppose so, if you’re judicious about what you order. It’s certainly not a place, though, where the eater on a budget can have free reign of the menu – cheapskates beware.

*By the way, and I realize nobody cares about this but me: In researching links for my first experience with tortilla, I discovered that the Rothenburg o.d.T Goethe Institut branch closed at the end of 2005 (along with, I believe, the one in Prien). I had some of my best times in Rothenburg, and not just at Mario’s bar (the original location of which, outside the city wall, must surely now also be closed). Unlike the Berlin branch, where I started my studies away in January 2002, the Rothenburg branch had a real community of returning and new students – many came back on a yearly basis to see old friends, and the facility had an excellent faculty of both guests and full-time instructors.

The cooking parties mentioned above, in particular, were an original Rothenburg tradition, and I was led to believe few other branches had the facilities to offer them (Berlin certainly didn’t). The first month I was there, I attempted to cook the Austrian dessert specialty Kaiserschmarrn, to limited success, but even my pale attempt was greeted with accolades by my fellow students and instructor (who really couldn’t believe that, as an American, I was attempting to cook an Austrian dish).

I’ve lost track with my friends from this time period, but I guess I should e-mail some of them and see what they’re up to. Unless the second place down on this list is run by the Mario I know, it appears a reunion in some summer month for a few drinks at Mario’s is out of the question (though it seems likely it’s him, particularly given the plug for the friendly proprietor, as he’s a very nice man, and actually quite a story in his own right.) In the meantime, I’ll be waxing nostalgic for July and August of 2002 – a great, great time in my life.

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