As much as I love New York City, I've got a wicked case of the travel bug. The urge to pack my bags and hop on a plane hits me about every two weeks. In the winter, I usually crave a sunny beach somewhere waaay south, but this time of year I long for Europe. Though France is my dearest love, every so often I like to flirt with Spain...the long, leisurely lunches, the late dinners, the bold colors (and flavors), the beautiful Gaudian architecture of Barcelona, the bright tile work and the fountains of Cadiz, and the tiny little tapas bars that line the narrow streets of Bari Gotti all make me long for a little Spanish sojourn.

Alas, now's not the time for an overseas adventure, but fortunately I know where to go when the Spanish craving hits: El Quinto Pino.

I'm loathe to share the location of this oh-so-charming tapas bar, because between the horse-shoe shaped bar and its couple of tall tables, it can only fit about 20 people. (My advice: go early!) They sell all sorts of sherries, wine, cava, and horchata (a milk and brandy drink popular in Spain), but it's their food that keeps me coming back. Crunchy pimenton-dusted chickpeas, crisp potatoes with a spicy aioli, their famous uni-butter panini, and all manner of little cheese, olive, and seafood combinations (octopus terrine, flash fried bluefish) could be the better tapas joints in Madrid or Barcelona.

Photo by Signe Birck

But there's one dish that is bar none my favorite: their Gambas al Ajillo (Shrimp with Garlic). Served in a little terra cotta dish, the shrimp come out sizzling from the oven, tossed in a wildly delicious combo of garlic, olive oil, white wine, ginger, and slivers of hot pepper. The shrimp is fantastic on its own, but my favorite part is dipping up the flavorful sauce with chunks of crusty bread.

I used to work in West Chelsea several years ago, and El Quinto Pino became my favorite after-work haunt. I'd go and order the shrimp and a glass of cava and all would be well in the world. Now that I live and work across town, I make my own version of the dish at home. I've added tomatoes and some thyme, and though the ginger is delicious in El Quinto Pino's version, I just stick to garlic and shallots. This is such an easy, beautiful meal that takes about half an hour to prepare. Usually I just serve the shrimp with a simple green salad (with fresh squeezed lemon and olive oil) and crusty bread, though it's also fantastic with couscous or quinoa to soak up the broth.

Either way, if you get the Spanish craving and you can't a) go to Spain or b) go to El Quinto Pino, try my Plan C. On your way home from work, pick up a bottle of cava (Spanish sparkling wine), some good olives, a chunk of Manchego, some chorizo, crusty bread, and ingredients for this shrimp dish. If you live on your own, call a friend or two to come over. Before you start cooking, pour a glass of cava, set out the olives, cheese, and chorizo, and a few thin slices of bread - your own tapas party! Then make the shrimp dish, dim the lights, light some candles, and pretend you're in Spain. Works every time...

Photos by Signe Birck.