Tucked away a few blocks off Broadway in Soho (and not far from one of my favorite brunch places) is probably my favorite boutique in the city: Despaña. It’s in a fairly unassuming location on Broome Street, and could be easy to pass by without a second thought if you didn’t know it was there–but then you’d be missing out on all of the delights that wait on the other side of the door.
Let’s go inside, shall we?
Immediately upon entering you are surrounded by Spanish delicacies: chorizos, lomo and cured hams are to your right, with the latter often being sliced up to order. Bowls of freshly-sliced chorizo that has been warmed through are on top of the meat case, while a wooden platter boasts slices of lomo and other Spanish charcutería, all for sampling, of course.
Sampling is a given here: whether it’s Spanish olive oils, vinegars, tinned seafood or one of their 50 cheeses that they have on hand, it’s pretty easy to get a taste of Spain while you’re in the store. And really, it’s a good idea: especially with the seafood and cheeses, the flavors are so unique to the country that you’re never going to appreciate their subtleties until you try them for yourself. You may balk at the price for a can of Bonito Del Norte tuna…until you taste it and realize that it really is light years away from even the best canned Italian tuna you’ve ever had. It’s not strong, it’s not fishy; it’s simply sublime. That’s only the tip of the iceberg, because you can get treasures like baby eels (elvers) and razor clams–while you’re not getting the true crème de la crème (as those cans will run you at least 50 euros a tin, if No Reservations is to be believed), you’re getting an accessible luxury.
And that’s what is so great about Despaña: the whole store exudes accessible luxury. Sure, you can buy some jamón ibérico for $90-odd/lb, but you can simply order a few slices and be charged accordingly. Their house-made chorizos are packaged in roughly 1lb packages, but they run less than $10 for a package and can be stored in the freezer for later use. It’s actually the ideal place to take a visiting Spanish-food-enthusiast, because so many foods are available to buy that are easily transportable, from the tinned seafood to the dried beans to the various paella pans and sangria pitchers that can be stowed away in suitcases. And in the meantime, you can treat yourself to some tortilla, or one of their various pinxtos, or a nice bocadillo in the communal dining area if you feel tempted by the many delights in their ready-made cases. And you will be, believe me.
The real selling point of the place is its inherent lack of pretension or haughtiness from the people behind it all: from the casual way your tapas are served to getting suggestions for what chorizo to purchase, the staff is here to dazzle, educate and ultimately please. It’s actually like an antithesis to Eataly in that it’s tiny, serves no wine (yet) and the staff is friendly but unobtrusive, with the added bonus that you’re not crushed by tourists in the same way you are when visiting that Italian emporium. They won’t bat an eyelash if you take an extra slice of lomo or take a taste of all of the chorizos they offer because they know you will be making a purchase. It’s virtually a given because you will need to take a little bit of this tiny place home with you. I’m pretty sure Michael is very thankful we don’t live close to this place because I’d be there every weekend, draining my bank account. But it would be totally worth it…right? At least it’s cheaper than hopping a flight to Madrid from JFK…
So the next time you find yourself in Soho, why not make a visit to Despaña? If you love Spanish food even a little bit, you will be very, very satisfied.