The Bonfire of the Strawberries
528 Second Ave, 381-9090
Mon-Fri 4 pm-2 am, Sat 5 pm-2 am.
Look no further for the Beautiful People. They're near the base of the Smith Tower at Ibiza Dinner Club, with their strappy sandals, back-baring tops, square jaws, and overmuscled arms. They're in the lounge, three identical blondes nonchalantly accepting drinks sent by more of them who are grouped, lupine, at the circular bar. Ibiza is massive in scale, with enormous mirrors and a soaring ceiling and yards of gossamer curtains and giant upholstered banquettes; inevitably, it invites comparisons to other, bigger metropolises, and other, flusher decades. It's perfectly ridiculous and, in its own way, ridiculously perfect.
Dining here isn't too far from the maddening bar crowd--separated by just a futuristic metal mesh drape--but the expansive space feels fabulously decadent. Table settings are immaculate and considering the pomp and the circumstances, prices are bizarrely low. Three courses for three might set you back a hundred bucks--not bad for feeling like you've Arrived. (A bottle of wine might, of course, make your bill arrive at half again as much.)
As for the food, it's often great, otherwise valiantly good, and always beautiful. Like the place's namesake, it's hot-spot Spanish-Mediterranean style; the olives on the table come in an oil bath so good you want to pour it over your head. A long list of tapas includes montaditos ($4.75), three boquerones (the superior vinegar-packed Spanish anchovies) splayed over mounds of olive tapenade on tiny toasts. It's intensely fishy and salty, in the best possible drinking-snack way (the original intent of tapas, before they got all nuevo). Bistec carpaccio ($5.95) has a dullish whiskey sauce that quickly developed a disturbing skin on it, as well as an oddly paired guacamole, but the raw beef is melty goodness itself. While gorgeous, tapas are served on (surprise) oversized plates that make sharing a little awkward, especially in such a posh setting. Add a superlative spinach salad ($8.50)--with Serrano ham, discs of chèvre rolled in nuts (think of the best possible version of a cheese log), red onions, manchego, and a confetti of avocado, red pepper, and tomato--into the mix, and it's liable to get lodged in front of one diner and devoured.
Don't let your waiter talk you into the romantic-sounding solomillo con queso de Cabrales ($24.95). While the beef tenderloin is a great value and could not in any way be described as inferior, the bland whiskey sauce makes a reappearance (as does its coagulated surface), and the quantity of Cabrales cheese may not be everything one might hope. Moreover, there is chicken pelau ($15.75) to be had; it's described as stewed, but the breast and wing are crisp-skinned and moist-fleshed, sitting in a respectfully understated amount of creamy-rich coconut-milk sauce that's peppered with cute, tiny, sweet currants as well as big, salty green olives. Lime also contributes; the contrasts are mind-bendingly tasty. A signature paella ($20.95) is also remarkable, not only for the presentation--impressive erections of fried plantain surround it--but for the deftly handled seafood, including squid that's elastic but never rubbery. The chicken here, too, is amazing, with delicious pieces of slippery skin; the rice is on the wetter, clumpier side, almost risotto-like, savory, and saffrony.
For dessert, the room practically begs something flambéed, and to meet this demand there is a large plate of lightly vinegar-macerated strawberries ($5) with a little dollop of sour cream, doused with blue-flaming Stroh rum at your table. It's impressive, and the resulting caramelized syrup is amazing, and when local strawberries are actually in season, forget about it. Bunuelos ($5) are lower key, richer, practically brooding by comparison, but as wonderful; they're crisp pastry fritters filled with semisweet, semi-melted chocolate, barely drizzled with vanilla syrup. If the strawberry extravaganza inspires public displays of affection, one wants to be alone with a bunuelo.
Timing from the kitchen can be Spanish-style, with long pauses between courses, but a two-month-old place has such growing pains. The bartenders, on the other hand, are consummate professionals, so much so that they even have a sense of humor about it all. Smart people might stop here for happy hour in the lounge, weekdays from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m., to experience the glamour as well as a cut-priced tapas menu and drink specials. The beautiful people, well, they'll stop here whenever they damn well feel like it.