The attentive reader of this blog may have noticed my borderline obsession with Asturias in northern Spain (okay, there’s probably nothing "borderline" about it). When I was there last year, there was already buzz about a restaurant in New York City that was going to serve real sidra, MONTHS before it was slated to open. Naturally, my curiosity was piqued.
When I began to read pieces about it, I got worried. For some reason, I delayed actually going there, most likely fearing disappointment. I finally did go this past weekend, and realized that my fears were well-founded.
I can say nothing of the food, since I didn’t have any. It's far too expensive for me under... well, pretty much any circumstances, and the menu holds no interest for me whatsoever (although I wouldn’t refuse a plate of jamón ibérico if offered one). I readily admit to being a peasant at heart – this "fusion" crap will forever be lost on me, I’m afraid. Give me traditional cooking any day.
Every puff publicity piece I’ve read about Tertulia cites its "roots in the cider bars of northern Spain". Except for the excessive number of knickknacks that pass for décor (which could just as easily be country Italian of French), it’s difficult to discern said roots, if they actually exist. The sidrerías of Asturias all have certain inherent qualities, none of which are apparent at Tertulia. They exist first and foremost for the enjoyment of sidra (more on that in a moment), accompanied by traditional fare, usually heavy on simply-prepared fresh seafood and, of course, cured pork products. Tertulia's menu, full of pretentious fantasies on lightly-Spanish themes, immediately strikes the wrong chord. A sidrería also demands a certain amount of space in which to be able to pour it properly (a bit more on that can be read here), which Tertulia lacks. Fine – I understand the space constraints and costs of Manhattan, but don’t then invoke sidrerías as your inspiration if you can’t even pour the sidra properly. And all sidrerías share a certain relaxed informality only very self-consciously played at here.
The reason for my visit – to try the sidra - unfortunately resulted in disappointment, too. Although they also offer offer sparkling sidra (which has been available in the U.S. for quite some time), my goal was the lightly fermented sidra natural being offered here, as far as I can tell, for the first time. Tertulia stocks a good marca, Trabanco, but you would never know it to taste it. Although sidra natural notoriously does not travel well, they also don’t store it at the proper temperature (too cold) and make only the barest, completely ineffectual attempt to pour it properly, thereby reducing one of the great libationary joys on earth to, at best, an oddity. Sidra is meant to be enjoyed freely, downing each culín in a big gulp, six culínes to a bottle – not nursing each precious, overpriced pour. Of course, that’s the only possibility when one is charged $32 (!!!) for a bottle that costs under 4 euros in any sidrería in Asturias.
Though the fellow behind the bar could not possibly have been more congenial, I felt dirty afterwards.
359 6th Ave., New York 10012