Lizarran: Chain Tapas from Spain Arrives in Soho
In 1988, the first Lizarran opened in Sitges, Catalonia, a small seaside city about 21 miles south of Barcelona. Now the pintxos (Basque canapes) and tapas restaurant has franchises all over Spain, and in seven other countries, including China, Russia, France, Portugal, and the United States. A sexy, barely dressed female matador seems to be the company's mascot, and its tagline is "Don't be shy, help yourself!"
That refers to the way pintxos are often offered in Spain--stacked on a bar, where customers can just grab what they want and keep the toothpicks as a record of how much you need to pay for. Alas, this being the United States, the canapes must be held behind glass in a sterile refrigerated case; bring a plate up and ask the bartender for the ones that strike your fancy. Pictured above are the canapes with a mayo-heavy crab salad; goat cheese-honey-date; and more crab salad stuffed in a piquillo pepper with yet more mayo. These are not Americanized; they're fairly typical of a middle-of-the-road Northern Spanish tapas joint. Hot pintxos--like one topped with a skewer of juicy meatballs--are brought around on a platter periodically.
Lizarran is pretty good, and it fills a niche--the pintxos at Txikito are better, but more expensive and less casual; those at Despana are also better, but the place closes at 7pm and doesn't yet serve wine. And so Lizarran, which has an all-Spanish, affordable wine list, a casual, walk-in atmosphere, and tasty, fairly priced food, is a good option to have around.
Patatas bravas, the always-popular fried potatoes doused in spicy ketchup and aioli, are resolutely crisp, but they need a good shake of salt. The kitchen has an overall tendency to under-salt.
Croquettes stuffed with mushroom, potato, ham, and cheese, respectively, are adequate.
Small shrimp sizzling in a crock of olive oil with garlic and chile flakes are very tasty, and the oil is good for dunking bread in, but these also needed a bit of salt.