The Spanish were early masters at creating small plates. Tapas, as story has it, were born when Spaniards used plates to cover their wine glasses to keep out flies. Eventually, people decided to put delicious morsels of food on top. A moment of ingenuity thus gave rise to an entire culture of cooking, eating, and drinking.
The Gambas al Ajillo ($16), for example, are traditionally prepared with just shrimp, garlic, guindilla pepper (a traditional pepper from the Basque region), and olive oil. But Vidal decided to make a sauce with the heads of the shrimp and a dash of pimentón (paprika)—a lip-smacking concoction that you’ll want to dip and soak every piece of bread into.
Another classic tapas dish, Patatas Bravas ($9), consists of fried potatoes with spicy tomato sauce. Vidal drizzles a layer of roasted garlic aioli on top, making the pillowy bites all the more comforting.
Spain has rich and varied regional cuisines, with each area boasting its own signature tapas. But there are some common characteristics, chef Vidal explained, such as the fond use of ingredients like garlic, tomatoes, olive oil, and saffron.
The result is dishes brimming with umami, usually in the form of delicious sauces waiting to be sopped up. The Fideuà Negra ($19) is like a seafood paella in noodle form: squid ink-tinged noodles are charred to a crisp and cooked with sofrito, a common base sauce made by simmering onions, peppers, tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil for hours. Then Vidal adds a big dollop of garlic aioli on top. Mix everything together, and you’ll taste the sea, enveloped by the aroma of the wonderfully pungent and moreish sauce.
Piquillos Rellenos ($16) are piquillo peppers stuffed with tender shreds of braised oxtail, but what makes the dish special is the creamy, earthy celery root purée that accompanies it, cooked with shallots and red wine jus for a rich savoriness that almost resembles melted cheese.
Different parts of Spain have their own customs for enjoying tapas, Vidal said. In the north, where Basque country is located, people typically share plates while standing by the bar. Tapas there are called pintxos, and are usually served on toothpicks. After several rounds of food and Txakoli, a white wine from the region, your party would move on to the next bar, and the ritual would repeat throughout the evening.
In Barcelona and its surrounding Catalonia region—where Vidal is from—people usually go to just one restaurant each evening. But on Sundays, diners start the evening with an aperitivo, enjoying tapas as a prelude to the larger meal ahead.
Vidal serves several regional pintxos, such as the Pintxos Morunos ($12), lamb skewers with a bright salsa verde; and Dátiles Con Beicon ($8), gooey dates wrapped with bacon, almonds, and funky Valdeón cheese—a winning combination.
For a taste of Galicia, in northwestern Spain, try the Pulpo a la Plancha ($18), meaty octopus singed with smoke from the grill, paired perfectly with fennel and mashed potatoes.
Leave room for dessert: the Churros Rellenos ($10), filled with Nutella, will satisfy your sweet tooth, as will Turrón ($7), a light almond-and-hazelnut cake, paired with dulce de leche ice cream and crunchy hazelnuts.
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