Walk in the door and you feel welcomed. It seems like such a simple thing, but few restaurants get it right. I'm not talking about a phalanx of junior managers slipping you an insincere smile as they size you up and then try to stick you with the worst table in the room. Everyone who works at Tasca has an instinctive sense of how to be warm and hospitable. The space works too, with no big-name designer in sight and a limited budget. You can intuit it in the way people seated along the bar lean into each other and interact with the bartender or the host. Everyone at table is digging into their food with abandon, licking the mussel juices from their fingers, offering a bite of crostini to someone at the next table, enjoying the conversation at their own table. There is no scene, no whispered nudges or heads turning to get a glimpse of celebrity or notoriety. Tasca is the antithesis of trendy.
The food is fairly traditional too. A brown paper menu printed in a retro typeface introduces small plates, salads and soups on the front page, large plates, sides and desserts on the reverse. Of course, there's a little dish of oil-slicked olives and toasted nuts. And the requisite charcuterie plate. But here, instead of an Italian assortment, the cured meats are Spanish-inflected, most from a local producer: jamon serrano (Spain's answer to prosciutto) and a couple of different pimiento-streaked chorizo along with a dusky piquillo pepper tapenade and some kalamata olives.