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From Cataluña to Asturias: Eating Spain in New York City

Editor’s note: Mercat Restaurant is now closed, but Tertulia is still very much open!

As is true with those who are obsessed with travel and great food, I take every opportunity to try something new and/or different when away from home. A recent business trip to New York City set the stage for my latest endeavor. I am also certain that it will be no surprise that this trip involved Spanish food and wine! Two Spanish restaurants set the backdrop for this trip across northern Spain: Mercat and Tertulia. Two entirely unique geographic areas – Cataluña and Asturias – provided a gastronomic journey that would not disappoint.

Approaching the entrance to Mercat Hispanophiles cannot help but notice the replica of the stained glass “Mercat” sign of the Boqueria Market in Barcelona displayed prominently above the front door. Dark and rustic on the interior I opted for a seat at bar peering into the open kitchen (I am a huge fan of an open kitchen as there is usually little that is hidden from onlookers. Probably the most impressive feature of the restaurant is the showcase of wines (predominantly Catalan) on a second-level wall opposite the kitchen. It took everything within me not to sneak up there and study each label incessantly; but I was ready to be transported back to Cataluña and the memories of my time there almost two years ago.

The Catalan/English menu is a collection of Spanish formatges (cheeses) and embotits (meats/sausages) as well as an impressive array of uniquely Catalan dishes. The primary disadvantage of dining alone (apart from the obvious lack of stimulating conversation) is that one is limited to the number of dishes that can be tasted unless you have an expandable stomach! After studying the menu for a good 15 minutes, I decided on three: Coca d’Anec (pastry topped with duck, pears, spinach, and hazelnuts), Cigrons amb Botifara Negre (chickpeas with morcilla sausage, apricot, pine nuts, star anise, and mint), and Remolatxa (beets, goat cheese, and caper vinaigrette). Paired with a Bobal from D.O. Manchuela (the focus for the month), every dish was prepared with great care (as I watched on) and quite delicioso. A couple of other dishes I would have tried (but will next time) had I not been full were the Bacalla (grilled cod with asparagus, artichokes, and romesco), Fideua Negra (short noodles with sepia in its ink), and Esparrecs (asparagus with Serrano ham, Manchego cheese, poached egg, and salsa verde). I highly recommend Mercat to anyone seeking a uniquely Catalan dining experience.

Riding high from my Catalan-inspired dinner two nights prior my next visit could not have been timed more perfectly. A long-time (and long-distance) fan of Seamus Mullen, formerly of Suba and Boqueria (two Spanish restaurants in NYC), I was ecstatic to learn that he had just opened his new Spanish food concept, Tertulia (meaning “gathering”), based on the cider (sidra) houses of Asturias on the north-central coast of Spain. Anticipating heavy crowds I opted to visit the restaurant shortly after opening. I had also hoped to get a moment to speak with Seamus about his new venture.

Housed in a cozy and welcoming space on 6th Avenue, Tertulia is a must-visit! As in my other restaurant visit, I chose a spot at a table with a birds-eye view of the kitchen.

Seamus was cooking and he was intriguing to watch – delicately plating delectable Asturian-inspired dishes and quietly teaching his staff as a father teaches a child how to ride a bike. Before ordering I asked to speak to Seamus hoping to also get a couple of his recommendations for dinner. Taking a few moments away from his kitchen, he shared his vision for the newly-opened restaurant as well as a few recommended dishes. It is easy to see why he is so successful – he is passionate about Spain and it’s food and he is a genuinely nice guy! He does the country proud.

Again regretting that I was not willing to roll myself out of the restaurant, I chose four dishes. Starting with a glass of sidra and a plate of Pan con Tomate (toasted bread rubbed with tomato), I sat back and watched the master work in the kitchen and awaited what would be a seafood parade – Tosta Matrimonio (black and white anchovies, slow-roasted tomato, sheep’s milk cheese, and aged balsamic), Caballa y Fabes (Spanish mackerel, Fava beans, and roasted and pickled peppers), and Pulpo a Feira (grilled octopus, potatoes, apple, olives, and Piment d’Espelette). Absolutely amazing! The care and presentation of each ingredient is obvious. It was very difficult to bypass some of the other (certainly) delicious choices – including Pimientos de Padrón (Padrón Peppers), Tosta Seta (marinated mushrooms, smoked Ricotta and pine nuts), and Chorizo Criollo (garlic sausage, garbanzos, and Cabrales cheese). The menu is accompanied by and impressive (and almost exclusive) list of Spanish wines from around the country. I will definitely be back and will bring a friend next time so I can eat more.

A visit to New York City (or any city for that matter) is never complete without an amazing dining experience by which to envy your friends. Why not make Tertulia your next gastrostop while out on the town, or peruse the various other places including: Casa Mono, Txikito, Huertas and Gato. That said, you can always jump on a plane and join us for an exquisite food tour throughout Spain!

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