If restaurants had film adaptations, Ernesto’s would make the perfect short. It’d open with an establishing shot of the corner space on East Broadway. Nighttime. Globe lights hang in pairs like film noir lollipops. There’s a glow that says, “I don’t not want to have sex with my dining partner.” A sweeping marble bar demands that you lean on it. People tilt glasses of Spanish wine, unconcerned with their white cashmere. They don’t feast. They casually pick at cheesy chicken croquetas, duck rillette-stuffed peppers, and a pile of glistening potato chips with Iberico ham draped on top like a blanket on a baby.
This Basque spot on the LES is ideal for a drink and some snacks, even though we wouldn’t recommend it for a full meal.
You should order from the top of Ernesto’s menu with the confidence of George H.W. Bush talking about taxes. We especially like the vinegary gilda skewer with tuna and the delicate potato croqueta. The lightly fried potato ball has a bechamel center that tastes like the lovechild of chicken noodle soup and macaroni and cheese. Even after you’ve finished your snacks or desserts, you’ll want to pull a Cranberries and linger - possibly just to hear the French-accented sommelier tell you about Spanish pinot noir. Think of this spot as the perfect downtown wine bar that serves a mountain of potato chips and ham, but skip a full dinner.
The feature-length film version of Ernesto’s would play like a ten-part Ken Burns documentary on disappointing entrees. Or a 300-page script sitting in a slush pile at WME about an ensemble cast of unlikable characters who never had chemistry to begin with. There’s a great, nutty almond sauce that’s overshadowed by its accompanying under-cooked artichoke hearts. And a bacalao with creamy pepper sauce that looks and tastes like it belongs on an all-you-can-eat buffet line, and nowhere near the same universe as those excellent croquetas.
So stick to the short version, and come to Ernesto’s for the drink and snack highlights. You’ll save about $50 dollars, and an unpleasant entree experience that might change your mind about an otherwise happy place.
Gildas Con Atun
Great little skewers with sweet and spicy peppers, green olives, and gorgeous anchovies. Don’t forget about the cured tuna underneath just because it got stuck with bottom bunk - the dish really comes together when you combine all the intense oily flavors and varied textures.
Croquetas De Gallina
An unmissable snack. These cheesy chicken croquettes are expertly fried, so the outside remains structurally intact even though the middle is as gooey as molten rock. We’d like to start a food truck dedicated to them. Would it be called Croquetaboutit? Probably not.
Paleta Iberico Con Chips
We’ve spent too many years melting cheese on potato chips when we should have been draping ham on them all along. This is a powerful appetizer. It’s the size of a tiny mountain, and we love that some chips are soft and others are crunchy.
Tortilla Con Uni
This Spanish tortilla dish has a dollop of uni on top, which brings out a really nice saltiness with the egg and potato. It’s sort of like the Jeff Bezos version of adding hot sauce or ketchup to your eggs.
These duck-stuffed peppers are special. Imagine shredded duck encased in a whole, juicy piquillo pepper. It’s possible you’ll want to dip your pinky in the excess sauce and use it as chapstick.
Calamares En Su Tinta
We didn’t want to finish this dish. In fact, it has so much rubbery calamari and bland squid ink sauce, we don’t think a duo of huskies would want to finish it either.
Even though this entree literally has the word “salt” in the description, it’s even more sodium-heavy than advertised. Skip it.
If the artichoke hearts weren’t undercooked, this nutty vegetarian dish would be pretty great. But, alas.
Alubias Con Conejo Y Caracoles
If you insist on ordering an entree at Ernesto’s, this rabbit stew with escargot is really the only one we’d recommend. The rich, not-too-salty stew has soft beans, shredded rabbit, and a few snails that fall right out of their shells.
Just like the snacks and appetizers, Ernesto’s excels in the dessert category. Get the mille-feuille and/or the crispy torrijas (which is similar to the large french toast stick you’ve seen in your dreams).