Note: As far as we know, Huertas is still a great restaurant; however, it no longer offers the tasting menu described in the review below. The restaurant nixed that in April 2015, in favor of a broader Basque à la carte menu.
What does a restaurant have to do to get reviewed in this town? Huertas in the East Village has been open for nearly six months, and the only professional review I can find is by Robert Sietsema in Eater: three stars.
Our sample size is smaller than Sietsema’s, but we share his enthusiasm: Huertas is shout-from-the-rooftops good. Imagine a Basque Torrisi Italian Specialties, as it was originally, before the Torrisi sensation went viral.
You might have predicted success, when a couple of Danny Meyer alums are in charge. Chef Jason Miller has worked at Chanterelle, Gramercy Tavern and Savoy, before joining the opening team at Maialino, where he was sous-chef. After leaving Maialino, Miller did an apprenticeship in Northern Spain—hence the Basque connection. His partner and General Manager is Nate Adler, who was beverage director at both of Meyer’s Blue Smoke locations.
Huertas is two restaurants in one. In the front room, there’s a bar and high-top tables where you can order a variety of pinxtos ($4–12 each, passed around dim sum style), cheeses, cured meats, and larger plates (raciones).
In the 24-seat back room, there’s an astonishingly good deal: a reservations-only five-course prix fixe menu for $55 (a few months ago, it was $52 for four). It changes daily, and if you book on OpenTable, they email it to you in advance. Wine pairings, which are generous, are an additional $30.
The meal starts with bread service (above left), with an appealing soft spread whose description I don’t recall, and a selection of root vegetables (radishes, onions).
The opening course (above left) was a trio of gildas (salted anchovies); peppers stuffed with goat cheese;and skewers of chorizo and carrot. Ruby red shrimp (above right) were decorated with garlic, sungolds and peppers.
We’re suckers for fried egg dishes (above left), but this was a great one, with bacon, corn, and tomatoes. The chef cooks the white and the yolk separately; puncture the yolk, mix the ingredients together, and you’ve got proof that eggs aren’t only for breakfast. Lamb (above right) was terrific, cooked to a bright red, although the beans on the plate were pedestrian.
For dessert, a goat cheesecake (above left) was served with nectarines and a turrón (a slice of cake made with honey, sugar, egg white, and nuts). A plate of almonds and chocolate brittle (above right) took the place of petits fours.
The layout is a typical East Village chic (exposed brick, dark wood), without being truly distinctive. If Huertas fails (not that it should or will), I could easily think of a hundred concepts that could replace it, redecorating purely optional. In its favor, the tables are farther apart than the Downtown norm; the sound level isn’t punishing.
Service is right out of the Danny Meyer playbook, attentive and friendly. I did not take note of the wine pairings, but I can report they were creative, original, and well worth the $30 tarrif. Should you order beverages à la carte, there’s a two-page list of wines, beers, ciders, and sherries, mostly all Spanish or Basque, and not the obvious producers either.
For now, Huertas is one of the best bargains in town. If it takes off, someone’s gonna write, “Remember when that menu was only $55?”
Huertas (107 First Avenue between 6th & 7th Streets, East Village)
Food: Creative Basque cuisine
Service: As if Danny Meyer were running it
Ambiance: A slightly generic downtown chic