Caldo gallego en fuego.

Today, I give away my latest lunch secret: Café Español’s caldo gallego.  Café Español, a rather doughty old-timer near the corner of Carmine and Varick, is one of the last remaining Iberian outposts in the West Village.  While the nabe’s Italian outposts have become touristed to the point that the area around Father Demo Square could also carry a “Little Italy” moniker, the Portuguese and Spanish influences have largely faded – even the stalwart little store that carried dried salt cod and excellent bread (on Bleecker just north of Carmine) has been replaced by half of a chain pizzeria.

This is not to say that Café Español is so excellent that we should surround it with barbed wire and pray (see #33), but there is worthiness there to be found, specifically in its excellent Galician bean soup.  Frequently encountered in Dominican restaurants (many Dominicans claim Galician heritage, apparently), Café Español offers the chance to sample the increasingly rare mainland edition, at a bargain price – for takeout, roughly a half liter of the soup costs $4.25, including a substantial portion of fresh bread.

A wondrous soup it is, indeed – filled with slightly bitter greens (traditionally kale, it may well have been replaced by collard greens in this recipe), white beans stewed to perfection, chunks of tasty chorizo, and potatoes, finishing the entire portion is likely to fill you up.  Yet the soup is not watery – the broth carries a robust and harmonious synthesis of  the component flavors.

I’m not so enamored with the rest of the menu.  I tried the lunch special veal Extremeña ($9), and what I got was a skillet full of onions, peppers, and sausage, with a bit of veal thrown in – not bad, but certainly not exciting, and pairing it with string beans and rice certainly doesn’t do anything to change that.

Strangely, or perhaps reflecting the difficulty of staying in business as a purely Spanish restaurant, Café Español features a rather extensive selection of Mexican foods.  I have not tried them, and most likely I never will, but it’s kind of funny to consider that chips and salsa appear to be the nosh of choice at the bar.

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