In Conversation: El Pingüino

03.31.22

Greenpoint's new El Pingüino is everything we've ever wanted when it comes to enjoying a delicious martini and a dozen fresh oysters! Last week, we got to chat with Chef Nick Padilla on the opening of the space, what to order and of course, his favorite way to enjoy an oyster!

Plus, another super cool thing... their staff 'uniform' is a custom IK Melvin Shirt!

Enjoy our conversation below!

Hey Nick! We are so thrilled to have gotten the chance to work with you as you opened El Pingüino, the space + food are absolutely incredible. We first have to ask... what was the vision for creating this special place?

Thank you so much! First off I just want to say that we are so lucky to have had the chance to collaborate with you and your team, and we are all big fans of the work you do. The vision for El Pingüino solidified about halfway through construction, which is kind of crazy to admit but we were definitely doing a lot of the conceptualization during construction. I'm always impressed when people have their whole concept hammered out before taking possession of the space, but I'm not nearly organized enough for that. We knew from the beginning that we wanted to serve food from behind the bar, things like the tinned seafood and other simple snacky things, good bread (we use Shewolf Bakery which is the best). We also knew that we wanted to keep the beverage program simple and focus on making classic cocktails, specifically martinis, as well as possible. About halfway through the project, we realized we wouldn't be able to fit an ice machine into the basement (NYC commercial spaces are always a challenge), and instead would be putting it upstairs in the little room we planned on making into a prep kitchen. I figured if the ice machine was already upstairs we might as well serve oysters, and if we are serving oysters it wouldn't be that much more work to put together a seafood tower. At this point we are a sort of Spanish seafood & cocktail bar without a name, still building out the space under quarantine, and my business partner Mike Zorman in casual conversation mentions that his kitchen nickname when he was a young cook was "El Pingüino", which was so obviously perfect as a name for the place. It's a really exciting process to just kind of let the inspiration come from the space and the work but it's also kind of terrifying in retrospect because what if Mike didn't tell that story about his nickname!?

We are so happy we got to design the shirts for your team, something we haven't done before so we have to ask... what inspired you to have not only a uniform but a custom fit for everyone?

I didn't even realize I wanted a uniform until I was with my fiancé Emmy at your sample sale. Carlie suggested it I think, and the melvin shirt we based it off of was named after her cat and is a beautiful piece of functional clothing. I had recently had dinner at a relatively high end place in Greenpoint where the server was wearing really short cut off jeans and an old band t-shirt with holes in it and had a towel stuffed into the waistband of the jean shorts to wipe tables with... I think that was when I realized that I am now middle aged and kind of lame. But I also realized that maybe at El Pingüino we wanted to take it back to a time when you could very easily differentiate who actually works at the restaurant and who is just hanging out there, give it a little extra dose of professionalism and also help ground the appearance of the staff in the aesthetic of the space. It's always a bit jarring to see a beautifully built out, elegant space being worked by an underdressed crew. It's also inevitable that in the lifespan of a restaurant in Brooklyn someone is going to show up hungover in a tank top after spending the first half of the day at Rockaway Beach. If you've had a big night out before a shift, or you're behind on laundry, you can throw the jacket on and feel like you're 100%. We wanted something that was genderless and functional and looked good on everyone. The jacket itself references the kinds of uniforms you'd see behind the bar in places like Spain and Italy, or on someone working a seafood counter at a raw bar, without feeling like a costume. Big pockets for notepads and pens, plenty of room for movement, a nice collar. We really love them!

For those of us who haven't gotten a chance to dine with you, please tell us, what are some of the things we must get? What is your favorite dish?

The perfect order starts with a Martini, however you like it. Then a bottle Recaredo Cava, a Seafood Plateau, a plate of txistorras (small chorizos from northern Spain), and a tin of grilled Sardines in Escabeche from Güeyu Mar (a seafood restaurant in Asturias that makes its own conservas). Follow this with a slice of Basque Cheesecake and a glass of Oloroso Sherry. It's a perfect date night or an A.J. Liebling-esque indulgence for one. Actually, Liebling would probably refer to this as a first course and follow it with a huge rib steak and a Gran Reserva Rioja...

Last question, how do YOU eat your oysters?!

I like them every way! Lately I've been really into eating oysters alongside the little basque style sausages, txistorras, that we roast in an oven with wine, and pair it with a really light red wine, like a Poulsard from Jura or a Pineau d'Aunis from the Loire. The cold oyster/hot sausage combo, common in the Basque country and southwestern France, is fantastic. There are so many rules in some circles about how you are supposed to eat oysters, and of course there are the "true oyster purists" that don't think you shouldn't put ANYTHING, EVER, under any circumstances, with the exception of lemon juice on occasion and sparingly at that, on your oysters. I disagree. Mignonette is good, cocktail sauce is good, horseradish is good, what makes you happy is good, don't listen to these people!!!