However excited we are about the coming winter, the change of seasons does have a downside: In a few short weeks, Seamus Mullen’s beloved tapas terrace in the Standard Plaza will be transformed once again into an ice-skating rink. For fans of Mullen’s tapas—and who isn’t a fan of the peekytoe crab tosta de txangurro or the house-made lamb sausage in the bocata de merguez?—the Plaza has been been a gift that will be sorely missed.
Mullen, aka The Standard, Highline’s Chef-in-Residence, is by nature a culinary forager, and there’s no food that better suits the forager than Spanish tapas. “Eating is such a social activity, and nobody does that better than the Spaniards,” Mullen explains over a plate jamon iberico de bellota 5js, the finest type of acorn-raised, roaming Catalan pig.
“They really know how to have a good tongue-wag. Of course, there’s always food and wine to grease the conversation.” Spaniards may not think of themselves as non-commital, but their style of cuisine undoubtably is. Take a few quick bites and move on. It’s a browser’s paradise; varied and without obligation, the way some people arrange their love lives.
“Every dish has got to be punchy and not so endemically large that you don’t get bored by the third bite. I get bored if I’m having one big gigantic stew—the novelty wears off and it begins to feel like an obligation. A successful tapas dish is one where by the time you finish it, you’re left wanting just one more bite.” So how does Mullen keep himself interested? Foraging, mostly. He has a network of suppliers who tell him what’s on and what’s up.
The Standard’s Locust Farm supplies dinosaur kale, tomatoes, potatoes. Like New York itself, it’s often changing. “One of the great about my job is that I’m free to find new ingredients to work with. We’re forced to work with new ingredients from week to week, month to month, because we try to work with whatever at the peak of seasonal quality.” Sometimes that means going out to Hunt’s Point, the vast fish market in the Bronx, where the fish is fresh and the old or cross-gender prostitutes that used to work under the awnings along 13th and Washington streets have migrated to conduct their trade.
For Mullen, who grew up in upstate New York but was smitten with Spain and Spanish cuisine after visiting as an exchange student, the Standard Plaza has provided the perfect setting to present Spanish food at its simplest, which, considering the Plaza kitchen is equipped with little more than an oven and a grill, is still surprisingly varied.
“It has to be grilled or roasted. That was the idea and it suits my cooking philosophy: use excellent ingredients, don’t dress them up too much, serve simply and casually in an accessible environment.”