The Return of El Quijote

The iconic restaurant in the Chelsea Hotel makes a grand comeback

| 25 Feb 2022 | 04:40

For nearly a decade, Hotel Chelsea has been under a seemingly endless process of construction. El Quijote, the iconic Spanish restaurant nestled adjacent to its lobby, muscled through the upheaval next door, until it too shuttered its doors pre-pandemic, having remained in operation coming up on one hundred years. It began serving its famous paella, lobster in a green sauce and sangria in 1930, to a host of notable and infamous clientele, in keeping with the Hotel’s regular guests and tenants. While attentions focused on reopening of the hotel, El Quijote quietly revealed itself behind its original landmark signage in the beginning of February. And while much of the interior design and swanky energy of the original have been preserved, the cuisine is elevated by a talented team of the restaurant group Sunday Hospitality, based out of Brooklyn.

Led by Sunday Hospitality partner Charles Seich, El Quijote launched a soft opening at the beginning of this month. A magical balance of opulence and grit emanate from the bones of the space, the design overseen by partner Sean MacPherson. Much of the decor, and in truth the spirit of Señor Quijote himself, has been meticulously preserved, despite the absence of landmarking. The signage in front, however, is landmarked and preserved, a beacon to the iconic eatery as well as a tribute to its history.

The old black and white checked linoleum was peeled back to reveal a mosaic of inlaid pearl-grey tilework that predated it, repaired in patches creating an imperfect irregularity that illustrates the seamless integration of old and new. Gorgeous, boxy multi-colored glass chandeliers dangle above the lively bar scene, animated by energetic bar tenders throwing cocktails from on high – a signature trick of theirs, which contributes to the dramatic thrill of experience. Spanish folk music alternates with funky modern rock, providing a glamorous, cinematic moodiness – almost like in a movie. Which isn’t such a stretch of the imagination. While some of El Qujjote’s star-studded regulars of yore are no longer with us, those who recall the original will be contented with its current iteration.

Concise Menu

As much, or more, attention has been dedicated to the menu. The restaurant departs from the original’s somewhat divey Spanish roots to present a more glamorous affair with a concise menu of North Catalan and Basque delicacies. Chef Jaime Young and Chef de Cuisine Bryan Hogan, who lived and cooked in Spain for twelve years, created a menu that celebrates “the idea of traditional cooking” of those regions, showcasing imported Spanish comestibles while utilizing the local bounty of seafood and produce. The food is modernized, almost inarguably improved.

There is still paella, and while regulars might not recognize it from the original, it is still a grandiose affair, featuring bomba rice, rabbit and an array of seafood. Confitada di Atún explodes with flavor, as does a salad of fennel, apple and celery: salt and tang playing off one another as elemental ingredients are treated luxuriously. Unparalled Patatas Bravas envelope creamy interiors within a crackling crispness the retains its crunch as long as they manage to remain undevoured. Lusty sauces are cut with flashes of heat, and brightened with zips of citrus and vinegar. Price points remain refreshingly reasonable, however, the most expensive item being the aforementioned paella, but it is obviously it’s a dish to be shared by multiple diners. So too, the Sangria, which is only sold by the pitcher, so come with a crew.

Something for Everyone

But one shouldn’t have trouble finding enthusiastic candidates to join, as El Quijote has something for everyone. The kitchen and its capable, convivial red-jacketed staff are especially respectful of dietary restrictions, and the menu includes many vegetarian options. If the bar is the destination, beverage director Brian Evans has curated a magnificent list, highlighting intriguing thrown cocktails as well as a cinnamon-rich red and fruity white sangrias, and an smattering of ciders alongside an erudite selection wines from Claire Paparazzo. By-the-glass options are strictly Spanish, while the bottle list is more cosmopolitan. Desserts are off the menu, but three options currently present: a cheesecake-esque Gateau Basque, crunchy, fritter-style Florones and a goat’s milk soft serve, ingeniously infused with charcoal giving it a smooth, smoky wink.

Now more than ever, it seems, New York is a city of flux. But luckily some of the great things endure, and you can count El Quijote as one who has come back better than its predecessor. Andy Warhol once held forth a table here, his presence now commemorated in a framed photo near the bar. Now his compatriot, artist Mark Kostabi, coincidentally lives directly behind the restaurant, a harbinger the pomp and glam emblematic of El Quijote is almost guaranteed to return.