We're in a dark wood-paneled pinxtos bar in San Sebastián. Using our teeth to pull stacks of pale green guindilla peppers, manzanilla olives and fat white anchovies off skewers ($3), sipping on Txakoli ($11) from a squat tumbler, drinking and snacking and talking the night away.
There are friendly servers in all-black uniforms and those tins filled with useless see-through paper napkins you see everywhere in Spain. The only sign we're actually in the East Village: Nobody's crumpling up the napkins and throwing them on the floor.
Peter Hoffman of Savoy and Back Forty West is just a couple of tables over at Huertas, feasting on little plates of braised octopus dusted with smoked chile powder ($13)--Jonah Miller, the young chef here, used to work for him.
Miller has a way with mushrooms: Many kinds, simply cooked, bright with vinegar and smoked garlic, piled in a ceramic dish ($10). You'll probably want more, but there are other things to taste. Pace yourself.
To work up an appetite, order some vermouth ($8) made in-house from a base of Tempranillo and sherry and infused with citrus, angelica, gentian and cinnamon. It's on tap, so it arrives quickly, clinking with a few ice cubes and a lemon twist, and it's delicious.
In Spain, you'd have a drink, a bite or two, then move on to the next spot. But this neighborhood isn't exactly teeming with Basque-style tapas bars, so just settle down and stay a while.
Some things aren't on the menu. They'll show up dim-sum style. This means that, in a few minutes, one of the servers is bound to come your way with a wide silver platter of lamb meatballs, sardines and butter on thin toasts with raw radish, fried salt cod or Gildas--those pepper-olive-anchovy stacks you'd be a fool to miss.
And how often can you have a beautiful thing just because you pointed to it?