Deep into the night, six of us sat around an undersize table shuffling small plates back and forth like poker chips. When the dust settled, we took a final tally: Of the 18 tapas consumed, the number of memorable dishes was precisely one.
While almost nothing at Telepan Local is bad, too much is easily forgettable. That’s a bitter pill considering this is farm-to-table pioneer Bill Telepan’s first opening since his lauded Upper West Side flagship. The chef’s Tribeca outpost is a chic barn filled with more unfinished boards than a Home Depot; gleaming subway tiles spruce up the rough-hewn wood, while stylish grazers give the countrified room a downtown vibe.
There’s only one jaw-dropping headliner on a menu that’s filled with so-so opening acts. Typically ho-hum watercress ($9) is transformed into a bewitching plate, its fresh leaves dredged and fried crisp like a tempura salad, with chili-oil vinaigrette amplifying the trace spiciness of the greens. Beyond that seasonal stunner, there are preposterously chewy grilled octopus ($15) and pizzette ($14) no better than a grab-and-go slice.
Overeager servers gush about every dish, as if they can will you into loving things that you will merely find okay: smoky trout and salty croutons entangled in pleasantly supple scrambled eggs ($12); sweet, barely seared bay scallops lined up on a muddy sidewalk of mushroom puree ($16). But neither is worthy of its flowery introduction.
The kitchen banks on strength in numbers, as if the clown car of courses might distract you from the subtle shortcomings of individual plates. Salt-starved slices of rosy corned tongue ($12) are shown up by a charred wedge of Russian-dressing-marinated cabbage, while deeply smoky slabs of grilled short rib ($17) are overpowered by chili-blasted kimchi.
Dinner here is like a never-ending boxing match; round after round you keep waiting for a knockout that won’t come. With trekworthy small plates strewn across the city, these tapas are only worthwhile if you’re local.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Meal highlights: Grilled cheese, fried watercress, smoked-trout migas, bay scallops, sweetbread gratinée.
Behind the bar: While the bar is predictably stocked with New York spirits and beers, the far-ranging tapas are better served by wine, like an affordable dolcetto, rich with dark fruit but not overpowering.
Vibe: What you might imagine a dinner party in Martha Stewart’s upstate barn would look like.
Cocktail chatter: On the walls of the private dining room are blown-up versions of recipes handwritten by Telepan’s mom that he found in her attic.
Soundcheck: When the place is packed, the clatter of small plates makes some seriously big noise.
By Daniel S. Meyer