Before I start, I need to clear the air about something. Small plates, inspired by Spanish tapas, have been popular in a wide variety of restaurants for the past decade, infiltrating eateries from bistros to barbecue joints. I’m frankly surprised McDonald’s hasn’t gotten into the small plates game. For the most part, however, what are billed as small plates are just rebranded appetizers—chicken wings, no matter what you call them or what size dish you serve them on, are a starter. The small plates trend has turned a style of festive, communal dining into a stale gimmick.
Imagine my delight then, at the recent opening of two actual tapas bars, Bar Brava in Newburgh and Mirador, which opened in late December in the former Lunch Nightly space in Midtown Kingston. (I have not eaten at Bar Brava, but my colleague Melissa Esposito gives it high marks.) Mirador takes its cues from the tabancos, or taverns, of Jerez, Spain. Its bright yellow storefront evokes warm Andalusian sunshine and its intimate dinig room framed in dark wood accents and plaster arches give off serious Euro-clubhouse vibes.
It’s the offspring of two hospitality veterans, Harry McNamara and Nick Africano, who had talked for years about opening a restaurant together as a pipe dream—but when the space in Kingston became available, they took the plunge.
The focus on Andalusia is due to Africano: He’s spent the last decade importing sherry from the region and evangelizing the fortified wine to Americans like myself who think of their grandmother sipping Harvey’s Bristol Cream when someone says “sherry.” Africano is a certified sherry educator who’s set up his own subscription sherry club, Enramistas. He’ll gladly chat you up about the many kinds of sherry—manzanilla, oloroso, palo cortado, amontillado, fino, cream, and Pedro Jimenez—and offer samples to boot. (I wouldn’t be surprised if Africano was on the payroll of the Andalusian Office of Economic Development.) Mirador serves the more approachable, drier styles of sherry like manzanilla and fino. There are six sherries served by the glass ($12 to $18) and a selection of 20 bottles ($36 to $86). Tasting flights are also available.
The wine list is almost exclusively Spanish—the one exception being the Prologue solera cider from Rose Hill Winery and Cidery in Red Hook ($54)—ranging in price from $42 to $180, with many bottles under $60. There are 10 wines available by the glass ($13 to $16). The cocktail program is McNamara’s domain, and he includes sherry in many of the bar’s signature drinks. The house martini, for instance, employs extra dry La Copa sherry vermouth as well as fino sherry with Spanish Mahon gin ($15). If you’re a doctrinaire dry martini person, this prolly isn’t for you, but it drinks a bit like a Vesper and comes garnished with the cutest little cube of sherry vinegar-flavored Jello. Mirador's take on the New Orleans classic cocktail the Vieux Carre is the Vieux Jerez ($14), made with Spanish brandy, Neversink Rye, sherry vermouth, and olorosso.
I just realized I’m six paragraphs in and there’s been no talk of food—blame it on the sherry. The kitchen is helmed by Massoud Violette-Sheikh, former sous chef at Michelin-starred Batard in Tribeca. There’s a lunch menu featuring a few sandwiches ($12)—ham and cheese on tomato bread, Spanish tortilla on a milk bun, and grilled cheese with quince paste—as well as handful of tapas.
Most of the tapas are also available on the dinner menu as well. I’d start with the classic pan con tomate ($9), which has a delightful hint of vinegary tang. A standout tapa is the anchovy bread ($16), filets of Don Bocarte anchovies atop blocks of Rising River Bakehouse’s spongy and tangy brown bread. There’s also Iberico ham by the ounce, well worth it at $16. Another classic that Violette-Sheikh handles very capably is patatas bravas ($10), fried potatoes crisp and paprika’d and dotted with pillowy aioli. Speaking of aioli, it features as a lubricant on the jamon burger ($17). The burger is not beef but offcuts of Iberico pork formed into a dense patty—don’t go in expecting a pliable hamburger texture. Topped with Mahon cheese, peppers, and Serrano ham it’s a tasty exotic I’ve not seen in around here before.
A simple dish that punches above its flavor class is the raw tuna loin ($16). Served with tomatoes and chips made from old bread, its halfway between ceviche and sashimi. While Violette-Sheikh does well with the classics, his inventiveness also pokes out in spots. His take on the traditional Spanish tortilla is rectangular and served with smoked mussels and slices of green apple—well paired flavors in a geometrically surprising presentation. Also highlighting the chef’s creativity was a recent dish of Spanish mackerel ($25) which was lightly cured and grilled, served with roasted turnips in a toasted rice and manzanilla velouté. It was fantastic—the luscious mackerel dissolving into the roasty-toasty creaminess of the other elements.
Mirador is open for lunch and dinner every day but Tuesday and Wednesday with bar and coffee service continuous throughout the day. Africano and McNamara hope that patrons think of the spot as a place where they come in for a coffee or a sherry and chill out, like in a leisurely European cafe. (The patio, which seats 45, will open in late spring.) Mirador is a worthy addition to the bustling Kingston restaurant scene, filling a real gap in the city’s ethnic cuisine and rescuing small plates from their trendy prison.