My friend Sarah, in attempts to not get my hopes up, told me that we might not be able to get a reservation for our group as it continues to be packed around the clock. However, Sarah is my NYC fairy godmother and I knew if anyone could make it happen, it would be her. So, you can picture me two weeks prior to my trip doing a Kevin McAllister-esque fist pump on a Saturday morning in bed as I received a text from Sarah saying, “Got the reservation!” This was shaping up to be quite an excellent vacation, indeed.
As we were dining with a group of seven, we were served the Chef’s Meal, which consisted of a number of incredible plates served family style. Although it can sometimes be a challenge for me to give up control at a restaurant when it comes to ordering, I already got the sense that I could trust the team at Tertulia to surprise us with an unbelievable meal and they did exactly that. I’m warning you, this post is very involved. I won’t blame you if you want to turn back now.
The space itself is beautiful, and I’ve read that Mullen was very adamant about having full oversight in designing the interior. It feels like you could be in a wine cellar in Spain, with the exposed brick and rounded archways. (The word tertulia translates to ‘a social gathering with literary or artistic undertones, typically held in a public place such as a bar’.) We had a prime corner banquette table towards the back, looking out onto the bustling restaurant. Another plus was that we had a direct line of vision into the one-of-a-kind wood-fired oven. It is a chimney-style oven, with a moveable grill that the chefs can move up and down like a little elevator over the burning embers to control the heat.
It should also be noted that the service was incredible as they struck that difficult balance of being both attentive and invisible. In addition, they were very accommodating regarding the needs of the vegetarians in our group and were happy to answer any and all of my questions. I never once had an empty wine or water glass, but I swear I never even saw our server fill them up. Pure magic.
Our first round of small plates included the Remolachas (a beet salad) and the Jamon Iberico de Bellota, which was also served with Pane con Tomate, delicious toasted bread rubbed with tomato. I feel that during the winter months, you can typically find a beet salad on every restaurant’s menu, but I guarantee you that you won’t find one like this. Tertulia takes it up a notch with a mix of raw, pickled, and smoked beets paired with pistachios, a delicate Canarejal cheese, and horseradish vinaigrette. Smoky, acidic, and light, this salad disappeared very quickly from our table. The Jamon Iberico is Cinco Jotas Iberico ham that’s cut by hand, so imagine an incredibly delicate prosciutto-type meat that melts in your mouth and you’re getting there. This course also included what might have been one of my favorite bites of the night, the Tosta Matrimonio. Translation: black and white anchovies, slow-roasted tomato, and sheep’s milk cheese served on a flax and quinoa crisp. I’m not even ashamed to admit that my jealousy of Chef Mullen’s wife is through the roof, as I imagine she gets to eat snacks like this on the regular.
Our adult version of Christmas morning continued with more amazing surprises: Platillo de Setas (grilled winter mushrooms, boquerones, and pine nuts), Pimientos de Padron (fried Shishito peppers), and Croquetas de Jamon (Iberico ham croquettes with membrillo). Fried Shishito peppers are always a hit, especially when dusted with flaky sea salt. The grilled mushrooms with the boquerones and pine nuts had such a wonderful, earthy taste and the ham croquettes were completely decadent with their crispy outside and creamy, oozing inside. I also loved the membrillo, a quince paste, served with the croquettes as a hint of sweet with the savory.
It just kept getting better. The Coles de Bruselas (crispy Brussels sprouts with pork belly) was served with a mojo picon, which is a Spanish sauce typically made with garlic, vinegar and chilies or peppers of some sort. We also enjoyed the Grilled Artichoke, served with grilled lemon and aioli. While one of the more simply prepared dishes of the evening, the artichokes were so tender and lightly charred and tasted wonderful with the cool aioli. These were great dishes taking us into our next, heavier course.
Yes, there’s more. This round included the Mejillones Bravos a la Sidra (spicy bouchot mussels with guindilla pepper and chorizo), the Char a la Brasa (Arctic char with smoked cauliflower), and one of Mullen’s signature dishes, the Nuestra Tortilla del Dia (warm omelet of the day). The mussels were great, but my favorite part was the bread at the bottom of the pot that soaked up all of the garlicky deliciousness. The char was arguably the most popular dish of the night with its crispy skin and luscious flesh, paired with the smoky cauliflower. The omelet is one of the recipes in Hero Food that I’ve embarrassingly never even attempted because I knew mine wouldn’t be anywhere as good as the one served here. Ours included an array of vegetables, most memorably red peppers. It was so fluffy and flavorful and cooked to perfection, with a lovely drizzle of cream on top. It’s no wonder this dish has earned such a reputation.
After the mussels, Arctic char, and omelet, we were reaching a level of fullness that makes the post-Thanksgiving dinner food coma look like child’s play. That’s when our server came over with a metal stand and a large, elongated spoon and we all knew we were in for more surprises. All of us moaned almost in unison, “There’s more?!” Our server laughed, of course there was. How could we forget the crown jewel of the meal, the paella? As any professional eater does, we mentally and physically made room in our stomachs as the enormous metal platter arrived with the beautiful, steaming Paella del Huerto. Made with Bomba rice and an assortment of tender winter vegetables, the paella was topped with slices of pasture-raised chicken that was incredibly flavorful. To no one’s surprise, the rice was cooked perfectly and the dish was creamy and satisfying. Certainly a highlight of the night.
As if the paella wasn’t enough, there was still dessert. Crema Catalan, a Spanish version of Creme Brûlée, and a Chocolate Tart were served and both were incredible. The Crema Catalan was classic and decadent, with a delicate burnt sugar topping. I would never typically order a chocolate dessert like the one they served, as I typically want something that either involves fruit or something creamy, but this tart was on a different level. The crust was made with almond paste, so we were essentially eating silky dark chocolate and marzipan with freshly whipped cream and peanuts, and it was heavenly.
Even though our level of fullness was causing me physical pain as our stomachs stretched to new dimensions, I didn’t care because it was such a special meal and I wouldn’t have given up any piece of it. With it being way too obvious where our priorities lie, we bagged our plans to go out and went straight back to our hotel. Within minutes of arriving, the four of us staying there had our full-length robes on and were snuggling sardine style on a king-sized bed watching Magic Mike (Yes, you read that right.) Not surprisingly, 75% of us were asleep within minutes (Sarah says it was actually half-way decent, in case you’re wondering), and went on to sleep for ten blissful, uninterrupted hours. I woke up smiling about dinner and will continue to smile about it for years to come. Mission accomplished.
Tertulia, 359 6th Ave., New York, NY, (646) 559-9909, http://www.tertulianyc.com, Open Daily for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner (Weekend Brunch), See Website for Hours, Reservations Available Only for Lunch and for Dinner with Groups of Six or More.