Just as the sun sets on Lincoln Road, Panizza turns into La Tasca. Music and candles complete the Argentine bakery-café's transition to the sort of rustic Spanish tapas and wine bar for which La Tasca is named. Its chef, Fernando Echeverri, is from Pamplona in northern Spain near Basque Country. His parents entertained a lot, and he became his mother's sous chef.
Grown and working as a musician, he headed to New York in the early 1980s, and hung out at a restaurant where a friend tended bar. When the cook quit, he took over the kitchen, later getting formal training at the New York Restaurant School. Three months ago he worked out the tapas arrangement with Panizza's owners.
Echeverri's food is vibrant, with balanced flavors influenced by nueva cocina vasca, new Basque cuisine that borrowed from French nouvelle cooking. Order a glass of Txakoli wine with citrusy notes and tiny bubbles to enjoy with grilled chipirones (tender baby squid) on a bed of sautéed leeks with a drizzle of lemon garlic oil.
Cold tapas include cured cod fish salad with chickpeas, thinly sliced sea scallops in a light dressing of olive oil and aged vinegar and piquillo peppers stuffed with tuna tartare mixed with garlic aioli and tiny capers. Bombas de queso brings fried goat cheese balls with orange blossom honey. Grilled octopus is plated over diced potato and sliced celery, red onions and peppers with semi-sweet Moscatel vinegar. Breaded and fried oysters come on a hash of potato and spicy chistorra sausage.
Pinxto are Basque crostini with various toppings. Try spicy chocolate sauce with chorizo or sardines with roasted tomatoes. Gateau vasque is an almond cake filled with patissiere crème spiked with rum and orange zest. If food has rhythm, it sings here.