Let’s get it out of the way up top: Hamlet is not a restaurant. In fact, the small Pearl District space isn’t even a bar, really, but more of a food affair, swaddled in an eternal dusk of cushy leather banquettes and Portuguese-tiled walls. You’ll nibble warm, teeny olives and sip gin-melon cocktails, then leave perfumed with ham and sherry, wearing a drowsy smile on your face. All that expensive salt, fat, and fortified Spanish wine does strange, wonderful things to a body.
Nostrana’s Cathy Whims, who grew up eating country ham in North Carolina and fell hard for pata negra two decades ago in Madrid, has created a sexy-meets-geeky boîte that gives a handful of Spanish, Italian, and American hams the tasting-room treatment usually reserved for cheese or wine. Those pigs are exhaustively sourced and perfectly paired with chef Jun Robles’s brief menu of sandwiches, an addiction-worthy omelet, and silky bourbon-laced budino. The space is anchored by a pair of whole cured pig legs behind the counter that are worth more than a month’s rent for a studio apartment. Hamlet doubles as a showcase for fresh, luscious cocktails from bartender/co-owner Ryan Magarian—Whims’s partner at Oven and Shaker around the corner. Hamlet’s slinky vibe is marred only by its soundtrack, which sounds like someone seeded Pandora with Fleetwood Mac and “Brick House.” (Just stop it.)
The crowning glory is an $18/ounce Iberico de Bellota ham, hand-carved from fabled pigs that spend their final months grazing on sweet acorns along the Spain-Portugal border. It morphs from salty to buttery to earthy to herby as the fat melts, like a gamey, umami-laden Everlasting Gobstopper. (“Get the ham in your fingers, rub the fat around and then let it rest on your tongue,” instructs the earnest server, unintentionally creating a dirty meme that will live for weeks around my household.) Would you order the Iberico every week? No. Will you be happy you dropped a Jackson to try it? Absolutely.
A trio of Iowan La Quercia prosciuttos—sliced to whisper-thin ribbons—is almost as satisfying, and much more cost-effective at $15. Each 12-month-aged porker is cured in a different style—plain, smoked, and the fennel- and red-chile-rubbed picante—yielding a fascinating chance to compare and contrast flavors as you nibble.
The meats finds their mate in Hamlet’s sherry-toting cocktails: the Kojo, for example, revels in musky Oloroso sherry, with bright pops of gin, citrus, and a spice-cabinet hit of falernum and grapefruit oil. Follow it with a weirdly wonderful Iberian Road Soda: an oyster-briny ice slick of Manzanilla sherry and Tapatio Blanco tequila, softened with rose and maraschino liqueurs. The brief sherry list is an experience itself. One sip of that Manzanilla straight is bright and sharp, with an unexpected apple tang at odds with its deep, rich, library-like scent.
To be clear: this is a place for sampling and sipping, not gorging—unless you’re game to drop $100 on tapas and charcuterie. That’s all right. You just need a little taste tonight. Hamlet knows you’ll be back.