A lot of foods blow up on Instagram, but just how good are they in reality? Chowhound’s Social Media Producer Connor Bower is determined to find out which ones are worth your time and which are simply not worth the ‘gram.
On a trip to Barcelona earlier this year, I visited Santa Caterina Market’s Bar Joan following a gushing review from my parents. I sidled up to the counter and devoured small plates of jamón ibérico, olives, and boquerones (anchovies marinated in vinegar and olive oil). It was unquestionably an extremely savory meal, but I’m a big fan of the almost-too-salty experience and enjoy mixing and matching ingredients to capitalize on this (extra capers in tapenade, always).
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Which brings us to Ernesto’s, a new Spanish restaurant from Ryan Bartlow (Quality Eats’ former executive chef) in New York City’s Lower East Side. Bartlow designed Ernesto’s after the foods and techniques found in Spain’s Basque country, celebrating the abundance of seafood on its coast and the wide variety of meats and vegetables found more inland. Recently, Instagram has become infatuated with one of Ernesto’s starters: a mountain of homemade potato chips studded with sheets of ibérico ham, ringing in at $22. Obviously this salty-on-salty action spoke to me on a profound spiritual level, and I knew a visit was in order.
A Chip off the Old Block
Hoping to avoid the rush, I stopped by Ernesto’s one night right after they opened and grabbed a seat at the bar. I ordered the chips and a Vermouth and tonic cocktail featured on their menu. The drink itself was more tonic-forward than expected, but I had ordered it to help cut through the fat and salt, so the floral notes were much appreciated.
Iberico Ham (shoulder) Grass-fed Bone in from Spain, $249.99 on Amazon
After my plate arrived, I popped a solo chip sans ham into my mouth. It was sliced dangerously thin, dissipating completely after barely chewing. The seasoning was gentle, allowing the chip’s bright-yet-earthy flavors to shine through. The bartender confirmed that there’s olive oil mixed in with the frying oil, amplifying the flavor into something that was decidedly complex. Pairing with a bite of tender, somehow-almost-sweet ibérico only added to the experience, and I settled in for an enjoyable treat.
However, There’s a Plot Twist
As I continued eating, it became abundantly clear that not all chips are created equally. After those first few bites, I quickly started to hit more and more soggy chips. I assumed I had a dud spud or two scattered throughout the pile, and progressed on my merry way believing the worst was behind me. Unfortunately, the frequency of half-cooked potatoes increased and so did my disappointment. One of my favorite brands of chips is also very oil-heavy in its flavor, but it works due to how shatteringly crispy they are. Without the texture to compensate, the potatoes more closely resembled limp, greasy sponges. Even though I had been impressed by the first few bites, finding so many “off” chips retroactively lessened my initial thoughts, and trudging through a plate that was 80:20 chips:ham became a slog.
This pains me. I really wanted to love this, but it was the first time I left a restaurant feeling unsatisfied in a long time (especially with such a steep price point for a pile of potatoes and ham). The concept was so simple, so brilliant—a snack that could, nay, should have been a beautiful marriage of two gloriously salty components in one perfect bite. Alas, this is a harsh (but fair) reminder that not everything in reality will pan out to what you discover on the ‘gram. At least I’ll always have the photos, but this time I won’t post.
Header image by Connor Bower.