Like its namesake market and jamón mecca in Barcelona, a visit to Boqueria's crowded Flatiron location is sensory surfeit—clanging glassware, sizzling sea creatures, sharp elbows angling for a table, and an order of Ibérico at the no-reservations shoebox. The restaurant's chef, Seamus Mullen, who also runs the kitchen at Suba, takes pride in the chaos. "The fun with Boqueria is that you do stand and wait," says Mullen. "It's our way of forcing people to eat the way they do in Spain."
And boy can the Spanish eat—and not just paella, thank you very much—with Mullen earning a following by serving the fruits (and pork) of the nation: classic tapas dishes like bacalao, croquettes and serrano, in concert with offbeat seasonal grub like truffled lamb sausage with lentils and hake tongue.
You can count Frank Bruni as a fan. He dropped two stars almost two years to the date of another major feat for the restaurant—the opening this week of a second, larger, location in Soho.
The morning after his chef-studded opening party, we caught up with Mullen for some dish on his new digs.
With so many downtown chefs moving to the Upper West Side, why Soho?
One, I love the neighborhood. And two, the neighborhood has some good restaurants, but there isn't anything quite like us. Balthazar is really a scene and a touristy place. And there are some smaller mom-and-pop places. Some of them are great, like Shorty's. But there really isn't a place that has the energy and vibe that we have.
The neighborhood also lost a great breakfast place when Jerry's closed, and we are definitely going to be open for breakfast. We want to be the default option to hang out and read the newspaper. We have free wireless, so if you want to grab some coffee or beer and bites in the afternoon, this will be the place.
What was the one element you needed to have in Soho that wasn't available at the Flatiron location?
The most glaringly obvious element is the open kitchen and being able to have all that product on display and cooked in front of you. Tapas is all about the immediacy of food—you see it, you chose it, it gets cooked and then you eat it. There is no mystery. We couldn't do this at 19th Street without the open kitchen.
So will diners be calling out orders to the cooks?
There is going to be a waiter inside the kitchen taking orders and interacting with the diners. We couldn't do our job if we had to do that.
When was the last time you visited the Boqueria market in Barcelona?
About nine months ago. It was quick and dirty. I took my sous-chef and we spent a lot of time eating, taking photos, seeing old friends, digesting. Pretty much consuming as much as we could.
I've had the pleasure of sampling some of your bootleg ham directly from the market...
The last time I was in Spain I brought back five legs of ham. I bought a suitcase and loaded it up. But that was before Ibérico was available in the States, so we don't have as much contraband as we used to. But I have definitely brought in some black market ham before.
What's the greatest misconception about Spanish tapas?
Primarily, people who don't know anything about Spanish food think that it's spicy—based on bad paella from touristy joints and chorizo. There is an incredible abundance of products and diversity in dishes that don't get a lot of attention outside of Spain. For example, we do a lot with shellfish and seafood stews. It's not limited!
And you serve that fresh lamb bacon, which is one of my favorite dishes of the year!
We have two menus, a base menu and a market menu. The base has all of the classics that people expect: croquettes, bacalao, paella and the meats and cheeses. The market menu has the more seasonal, esoteric dishes. When we get lamb in, we make lamb bacon. When we get whole pigs in, we make charcuterie and pork belly. For example, today we have hake tongues and Nantucket bay scallops, as the season for those has just come around.
Last night was your opening party and it seemed pretty chef-heavy...
I was really happy with the turnout. There are definitely a lot of construction issues, which we are sorting out now. But people were having a great time with the open kitchen and all my buddies showed up: Akhtar Nawab, Andrew Carmellini, Marco Canora, Franklin Becker, Josh Eden, Zak Pelaccio, Wylie Dufresne came in late. There were a lot of cooks in the house.
Photo by Sam Horine