After all the fuss that's been made over Tertulia from the "professional" food writers - including rave reviews, year end listage, and general chef Seamus Mullen praising, we expected to roll in here and be so blown away by Spanish food done so right that, by the time we left, we'd be booking flights to Spain. More on that below.
If you haven't been to Tertulia yet, please temper your expectations. This is a fine restaurant. One that you might want to check out if you're in the hood and have some cash to burn. But it's not special. The food is ordinary Spanish tapas and the service is weird and choppy. Nothing about our dining experiences here made us want to come back again. Ever. Come to think of it, it's essentially just a rehashed version of Boqueria, Chef Mullen's fawned over Spanish hot-spot of five years ago. We were especially disappointed with brunch. Aside from a delicious "finger sandwich", nothing was worth more than a couple of bites. Dinner was a similar experience - inconsistent and largely disappointing. Maybe one or two plates got finished, and those aren't very big plates.
So, about that trip to Spain. Thanks in equal part to our disappointing trips to Tertulia and a craving for pretty much every single thing Mario Batali put in his mouth in Spain...On The Road Again, I decided to book a trip for the first time to see how it's really done. I'm actually typing this review from Barcelona, and the average tapas joint here puts Tertulia to shame. That's clearly an unfair comparison, but come on, this is New York City. When did we start showering mediocrity with love? Where have people's expectations gone? If you ask us, Tertulia is getting serious extra credit because of who the chef is. That kind of thing doesn't earn points here.
A nice set of Spanish toast with marinated mushrooms, smoked ricotta, and pine nuts. But, $9 for two slices? That's a lot.
The Spanish classic of toasted bread rubbed with garlic and tomato. It's a no brainer. You want this.
After our waitress told us that it was a fan favorite, I personally went with this polenta with lamb ragout and poached egg. Unfortunately, this was very disappointing. The polenta was gooey, the lamb was boring, and it didn't work well together. Two bites was all I needed.
Again, a bummer of a breakfast dish. The baked eggs and mustard greens got gobbled up by the garbanzo stew, and the whole thing just wasn't appetizing.
A "finger sandwich" (as they call it on this menu), this bocadillo (as the Spanish call it) has anchovies, a soft egg, and goat’s milk butter. If you can't make your way to Spain for a good bocadillo, you should come get one here.
It all sounded so promising: two fried eggs, house-made face bacon, potato nests, and seasonal vegetables. But somehow face bacon and potato nests read better on paper than they tasted on the plate. This was a bust. Bring me some regular bacon from whatever gross part of the animal regular bacon comes from.
A kale salad with some squash, mushrooms, and Idiazábal cheese in a mushroom vinaigrette. This was fine, but again didn't deliver what we hoped after reading the description.
We were into this bibb lettuce salad with a soft egg and tasty buttermilk vinaigrette. The only problem with ordering a bibb lettuce salad at a tapas restaurant is that you only get one piece of lettuce each.
The Fried Padrón peppers at Tertulia were good, and a couple of them happened to be tear-inducing spicy which is always fun. Patatas Bravas were nicely presented in their own pan, but were far from special.
This was our favorite dish from the dinner menu. It's a paella-like rice dish with a combination of snails, wild mushrooms, celery, fennel, and Ibérico ham. Some of the outside edges were crispy like soccarat, so if you're a fan of that unmistakable paella trait, definitely order this.
Duck may be the new pork, but lamb is right on its heels. This isn't necessarily something you see on the menu often, so we jumped at the opportunity to test out lamb belly. Sadly, this dish was just OK. The lamb was a little dry and overly salty which, belly meat or otherwise, is kind of unacceptable.
Speaking of not cooking meat properly. One of our big decisions was which of the large dishes we should order. As guided by our waitress, we decided to go with the duck rice. It was essentially a big serving of paella with raw, severely undercooked duck sitting on top of it. This may be how chefs like to eat duck, but we're pretty sure it's not how real people like to eat it. A little more heat and we probably would have been happy.