Las Flores, BGC
The next stop was Las Flores, a quaint little place on the corner of 25th and 23rd street. From our table in between the window and the bar, I marveled at the simple yet stylish interiors: white walls with framed floral illustrations, mismatched seats, and modern, mismatched hanging lamps — so different from the spunky design of its sister restaurant.
The menu was diverse but undaunting, as the selection tended towards more traditional configurations than Tomatito’s while still offering a little twist here and there. We settled on three very familiar dishes: croquetas de jamón, gambas al ajillo, and paella negra or, as it’s called in Spain, arroz negro.
First to arrive at our table was the croquetas de jamón. Uncomplicated and straightforward, traditional croquetas are a thing of beauty. But many restaurants mess with perfection by adding superfluous ingredients or steps, and all for the sake of appearing creative or original. I worried that Las Flores would turn out to be one of those restaurants.
Fortunately, my worries were unfounded. The croquetas’s exteriors were crisp and golden brown, while the thick, creamy béchamel filling was peppered with bits of cured ham. And though I would have liked for there to have been more ham inside, I couldn’t help but eat the lion’s share.
The gambas al ajillo — shrimp cooked with garlic, olive oil, and some chile— arrived at our table in a piping hot cazuela with the oil still bubbling. My heart rose to my throat; it looked and smelled just like the ones we would serve at home. I was immediately transported to my grandmother’s house, where I would sneak hot pieces of shrimp out of the kitchen with a toothpick. Needless to say, the dish hit all the right notes. The garlic was bold but not overpowering, the shrimp was fresh and perfectly seasoned, and the chili imparted a gentle heat that lingered ever so subtly in the mouth. Simple, flavorful, and without any frills or fancy components to hide behind, it was everything that classic Spanish cooking should be.
It was then time for the rice. Arroz negro or paella negra is traditionally prepared with rice, garlic, peppers, broth, and cuttlefish or squid, whose ink gives the dish its distinctive black coloring. Las Flores was very generous: their black rice, served in a paellera, was topped with three large blobs of alioli and lots of katsuobushi flakes. I was taken aback by the latter, as the dried, fermented tuna shavings are associated more with Japanese cuisine than anything else. What would this new addition do to the dish’s flavors?
A lot, as it would turn out. The brininess one would expect from the cuttlefish ink and the broth was faint, and the alioli again lacked a garlicky punch. The ingredient that I was the most apprehensive about turned out to give the dish the much-needed push in flavor. But even with the katsuobushi flakes, I found myself continuously searching for the taste of the sea.