Seamus Mullen, center, at Tertulia
Almejas a la Brasa at Tertulia
Chorizo criollo at Tertulia
Lamb breast at Tertulia
Mussels at Tertulia
Rice with snails at Tertulia
Heirloom tomatoes with cucumbers and cheese at Tertulia
New York is spoiled rotten with top-shelf trattorias, great casual spots for weekday Italian, where the food is fresh but not fussy, and you don’t have to think much about what’s on your plate. But most of the city isn’t as blessed with the Spanish equivalent. A few years back, chef Seamus Mullen did his bit to change that, launching his Boquerias in Soho and Chelsea with restaurateur Yann de Rochefort.
The chef, who left those still thriving restaurants for health reasons last year, is back—in the West Village this time—with Tertulia, an equally charming solo endeavor. It’s the sort of easy taberna you might stumble upon during a road trip through northern Spain, somewhere between San Sebastián and Gijón, perhaps, thinking not much initially of its rustic food and interiors, only realizing later the impression they’ve left.
Tertulia pays homage to the cider houses of Asturias, on the Atlantic coast just west of the Basque Country, offering hard cider on tap along with regional snacks. Its overall aesthetic harks back to a time before Spanish cuisine’s avant-garde shift. The nostalgic dining room, with its arched wine-cellar ceiling, oak booths and scuffed white brick walls, is so convincingly weathered, you’d think the place had been open for decades, not just a few weeks.
The menu seems, on the surface, as well-worn as the space, but there’s a big difference between the food at Tertulia and at the city’s real Iberian dinosaurs (like El Faro and Sevilla, still hanging on a few blocks away). Mullen, a great modern chef, offers an idealized spin on old-fashioned fare, featuring careful cooking and top-notch ingredients. Peer into the open kitchen and you’ll get an idea of what’s really at work here—the chef flanked by a wood-burning grill on one side and on the other by a whole haunch of Iberico ham.
Mullen wields that precious jamón like a stash of fresh truffles, draping hand-sliced wisps on a tosta with chopped egg and crushed confited potato, and folding minced scraps into the molten béchamel oozing from his supremely crunchy croquettes. There’s jamón too, on his sensational crispy snail and mushroom rice, translucent slices melting beneath a mushroom and shaved-celery salad.
All of these dishes are meant for passing and sharing, at a big table, ideally, with good friends around you. Mullen’s stealth work in the kitchen rarely draws much attention to itself. Never mind that the pimentón-spiced potatoes have just the right crunch, that the anchovies are smartly paired with sheep’s cheese on toast, that the smoky grilled clams arrive to the table right as they’ve popped. Just eat and enjoy.
While the ingredients here do most of the work, some plates are more baroque than others. A canapé of sunny-side-up quail eggs on caramelized pig cheeks and another featuring plump spicy mussels in tart Trabanco cider offer real fireworks. The lamb breast is also a showstopper, tender like pork belly and glazed in sweet sherry vinegar.
Still, it’s easy to take Mullen’s food for granted, if you don’t look too closely—at the gently grilled sushi-grade mackerel, for instance, or the superlative olive oil it’s sauced in. The homespun desserts—crispy crêpes rolled around vanilla custard, a fine sweet-and-salty chocolate tart—are just as easy to scarf down without pondering too much. Which is just as it should be.
Eat this: Pig cheeks with quail egg, grilled clams, spicy mussels, lamb breast, snail rice
Drink this: The bargain house wines ($8–$10), cider ($4) and sangria ($9) on tap are all great easy matches for the restaurant’s convivial food and vibe. There are also many intriguing Iberian bottles to choose from. Ask the sommelier to direct you to something offbeat, like an earthy Monje Tradicional red ($50) from the Canary Islands.
Sit here: Grab a stool at the bar for a solo snack. The best seats for dinner, though, are in the back half of the dining room, looking in toward the bustling kitchen.
Conversation piece: Seamus Mullen took a break from the restaurant business to cope with rheumatoid arthritis. He’s found some relief in the anti-inflammatory effects of the olive oil, almonds and oil-rich fish that are so central to Spanish cooking (and to his menu at Tertulia).
359 Sixth Ave
|Cross street:||between Washington Pl and W 4th St|
|Opening hours:||Mon–Thu noon–3pm, 5:30–11:30pm, Fri noon–3pm, 5:30pm–midnight, Sat 11am–midnight, Sun 11am–11pm|
|Transport:||Subway: A, C, E, B, D, F, M to W 4th St|
|Price:||Average small plate: $12. AmEx, DC, Disc, MC, V|
|Do you own this business?|
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I'm a catering director who lives for trying out different restaurants and enjoying great food & drink. I've been searching for a good tapas place especially since it was date night for me & my finicky fiance, an executive chef whose worked in top rated restaurants all over the world. After our meal we agreed that the food was absolutely amazing! We had chorizo deviled eggs, cheeses, cured meats, skewered lamb with salsa verde, crispy brussel sprouts with pork belly, beets with horseradish vinaigrette (everything was so perfect that I couldn't pick a favorite) & for dessert - which I didn't want it to end -Spanish "Toast" (bread pudding meets cinnamon toast) and chocolate coffee torte (heaven on a spoon). I was not prepared for how delicious the food would be so at one point I just had to close my eyes and savor the moment. One warning - we got there at 5 pm for drinks (Sangria was perfect by the way) but since they were between meal times the service wasn't reflective of the great service we received during (the staff forgot about us for a while since they were having their employee meal). But once we were seated, it was like night and day. Everyone was friendly, attentive and the whole vibe there is just perfect - unassuming, filled with groups of friends eating, laughing and having a good time. Perfect place to bring out of town guests. This is now one of my favorite restaurants and we'll be back very soon!