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Ryan Bartlow spent two years cooking in San Sebastián, a Basque Country seaside town known as much for its high concentration of Michelin-rated restaurants as its casual pinxto bars. In his first solo restaurant, the 38-year-old chef leans more toward the relaxed, convivial atmosphere of the latter (thankfully).
Since Ernesto’s opened, one of the most popular dishes has been the paleta Iberico con chips ($22), a fairly common dish in Spain that we don’t often see in New York. A mountain of thinly cut potato chips is draped with ribbons of imported jamón. While the chips tasted too salty on their own, they were perfect when combined with a bite of ham and a shared glass (or two) of wine.
The menu’s Para Picar (“To Nibble”) section has other shareable plates (all $10). You’ll find classic recipes like the nuestra tortilla and always popular gildas con atún, which has skewers of anchovies, peppers and olives with slices of canned tuna belly on the side. Featuring a bar that stretches nearly the length of the 55-seat room, the restaurant has the same festive energy found in Donostia, as San Sebastián is called in Basque.
On our two visits, the service was friendly and laid-back. A knowledgeable bartender guided us through the well-edited wine list, which includes some esoteric bottles, and a hostess enthusiastically recommended the next-door wine bar, which is a café during the day. However, we waited a long time to place our drink orders, and a quoted 20-minute wait was nearly an hour long. If we were supposed to be enjoying a taste of Spain’s luxuriously slow service, that’s a bite we could do without.
In some cases, these inconsistencies extended to the food. The tripe-heavy callos de joan ($16) was like a hearty, overly salted stew, and the rice with clams ($24) lacked seasoning—but, combined, the two dishes nicely balanced out each other. A bistec con salsa oporto ($32) could have been warmer, but the petit filet was perfectly cooked and the port-and-foie sauce expertly executed. Despite some miscues, we love the bite-size pintxos most, not to mention the communal dining. Right here on an unassuming corner in lower Manhattan, we found a little taste of northern Spain.