By Shana Liebman–
Rivertown foodies are raving about the new Basque Tapas in Tarrytown. The second incarnation of Piermont’s beloved Spanish bar and restaurant opened in April and serves Northern Spanish cuisine with a modern flair.
The tapas are freshly prepared and substantial — with old standards like red wine-braised chorizo and empanadas, as well as more inventive dishes like gently fried artichoke wedges served with a creamy aioli. The tapas menu also includes standouts like langostino (head-on prawns), puntas de filet mignon (spicy filet mignon tips), pulpo a la plancha (pan-gilled octopus) and a surprisingly good fried Manchego cheese slice, drizzled in honey and balsamic.
Chef and owner Benny Castro knows his Spanish food. His dad was the former owner of the famous Chelsea restaurant, El Quixote, and Castro grew up washing dishes (sometimes in torn garbage bags when his mom insisted that he stay dry) and doing other odd jobs for the restaurant, interspersed with trips to the comic book shop next store.
He spent his summers with his grandparents in Spain, immersed in the local food. “Every region, every zone, every area, every town is trying to outdo each other on their dishes — so you never have a bad meal.”
Not surprisingly, Castro wound up with a Spanish restaurant career of his own. He was partner/owner of Meson Sevilla and Sangria 46 (NYC) in Manhattan before opening Basque Tapas in Piermont in 2018. (Basque Tapas was one of only two restaurants in New York State to be awarded a certificate for authentic Spanish cuisine at the 2022 Fancy Food Show.)
A few years ago, Castro started thinking about opening a second Basque Tapas. “We get a lot of people from Westchester that come over to Piermont. And for years they’ve been telling us, ‘Why don’t you guys open up over here in Westchester?’ So, when the opportunity came up and we found the spot, that’s when I grabbed it.”
“It’s been challenging adapting to a new location,” Castro admitted, noting that while the menus are the same, the Tarrytown location is larger and, according to Castro, a bit more modern. In fact, the wonderfully funky art on the walls comes from Castro’s own collection. “I love art,” he said. “I think it livens the place up a little bit. It gives a little bit of spirit, you know?”
Another difference between the two restaurants is that the Tarrytown crowd tends to order tapas more than mains, and they also drink more wine and less liquor than the Piermont diners.
“We’re still studying the crowd and the atmosphere, so I think with time, I’m going to tweak a couple things there,” Castro said. “I may make it more of a tapas place, and a little bit less on the entree end. I’m still going to definitely keep the paellas because those are always the classic.”
Indeed, Castro’s paella, which comes in three versions (veggie, meat and seafood), is spectacular. “The paellas that we make are very different than the old Spanish restaurants,” he explained. “Back in the day, a lot of the Spanish restaurants used to par-cook their rice, so it was a soupier rice.” There were two reasons for this, Castro said. “One was they couldn’t get Spanish products into the country. Two, they wanted to turn and burn and move tables as quick as possible.”
At Basque Tapas, Castro makes paella from scratch in 30 to 40 minutes. “You have different textures in the rice. You have a little bit of caramelization. You have a little bit of crispiness. You have a little bit of chewiness. It’s an interesting combination,” he said. “A lot of people were brainwashed with the old way and that was not really the real way to do it. I hate to insult the past, but it wasn’t really based on quality.”
Basque Tapa’s menu also includes entrees like Castro’s favorite garlic-roasted chicken, sauteed skirt steak and a grilled salmon with shrimp. The meats are ethically raised — Angus beef, domestic lamb and wild seafood. Plus, many items like the Serrano and Iberico hams, chorizo and octopus are imported from Spain. The drink list features primarily Spanish wine and several varieties of sangrias.
The best feature of the new Basque Tapas, however, might just be the positive energy flowing through the dining room. On a recent Saturday night, all 75 seats at the Main Street spot were filled with enthusiastic diners. “They have been very welcoming,” Castro said. “Everybody’s been walking in and thanking us for being here.”