I recently revisited one of my favorite tapas and wine bars: Nai Tapas Bar. They’ve expanded into a two floor location, now on 2nd Ave at 5th Street (they moved from their old location on 1st Ave near 11th Street).
They offer an $89 chef’s tasting menu, which only jumps to $110 with their generous, high quality wine pairing pours for each course (and then some).
Not only is this a great deal, but it’s one of the best tasting menus I’ve had in years. Here’s how it went down.
We were met with a heaping goblet of white sangria…
Followed by a pour of the first white wine…
Which paired with the following bites:
This is truffle mushroom basmati rice with manchego cheese, beets and a perfectly poached egg.
These clams are gently broiled open and then dressed with cilantro, citrus zest and yuzu.
Next up was a pour of another white wine to go with this torched salmon and saffron nigiri and glazed Chilean sea bass (wrapped in crispy fried bread and topped with Serrano ham and asparagus).
After this, another glass of white (Gewürztraminer) came out with my favorite dish of the night (and a possible best of 2019 contender): portobello mushroom carpaccio. The Manchego cheese and crushed marcona almonds really made this pop, and the mushrooms are marinated in truffle oil.
There was a nice sangria-marinated cube of watermelon with mint served at this point, to get us ready for the next round.
After that, a red was poured…
To go along with these three meat courses:
Chicken: what a presentation. Broiled sweet mustard marinated thighs with tobiko, seaweed and champagne picked shallots. There were three kinds of sauces too.
Pork: braised marinated baby back rib.
Beef: prime rib eye katsu sando with Hokkaido milk bread and aioli, over shishito peppers.
After that, a palate cleansing cava came out, and then a glass of dessert white…
To go with this lemon tart and chocolate-stuffed churro.
What an amazing meal! There are so many more dishes I want to try on the menu. I’ll be back here again soon for sure, and I highly recommend you go as well. The price is low, the food is great, and there’s even live flamenco music.
That was one of the best meals I had all year in 2017. Well, now the Chef/Owner has a Japanese-inspired small plates izakaya joint over in Murray Hill called Oka, and the meal I just ate there is likely to be one of the best meals I will have this year.
A little bit about Chef John McCarthy, which I have shamelessly jacked from the Oka Website:
John is a former lawyer who left a legal career to attend the French Culinary Institute. After graduating from FCI at the top of his class, he worked for Chef Wylie Dufresne at wd-50 for several years, ultimately becoming Chef Wylie’s research and development cook. John is also a certified sake sommelier, and has spent a considerable amount of time in Asia. He lived in South Korea for three years when he was in high school, and he typically travels to Japan at least once a year to either stagiaire or travel for food and drink research and development. For the past two years, he has partnered with Chef Hiroyoshi Amano to prepare two dinners for Outstanding in the Field at the foot of Mt. Fuji for Fujisan Winery.
Not only does he know his way around sake, but he has also crafted some really nice cocktails and curated an impressive selection of spirits as well.
In addition to the impressive cocktail and spirits menu, there’s also a really great happy hour from 5:30-7:00, during which the listed items are just $5.
I was happy to see one of my favorite Japanese beers on that menu, Orion:
Okay so let me get down to business. My wife and I tried a bunch of stuff here. Everything on the menu looked so good that it was really difficult to decide what NOT to order.
Okay so first, the baguette:
This unassuming dish was a great way to open up the meal. The shio kombu butter with smoked salt was wild and invigorating, and the perfectly grill-toasted Balthazar bread was excellent and fresh.
We actually dragged some of it through our second plate, which was the salmon roe with yeasted sunchoke puree and sunchoke chips.
I’m in love with all things sunchoke, so I jumped at this right away. This dish would make for a perfect light breakfast. It was just the right balance of smooth from the puree, pop from the roe, and crunch from the chips.
Just when you thought a Caesar salad couldn’t get exciting, John McCarthy serves you one that is.
This is Romaine lettuce with smoked Caesar dressing, nori panko, anchovy, crispy baked parmesan chips, and shaved, dried bonito flakes. For those of you who are all about that nice fish flavor in a proper Caesar salad, this is all you. It was bonkers.
Next up, steak tartare.
This was easily one of the best tartare dishes I’ve ever had. It stands out among the competition for its notably unique flavor profile. Chef John brilliantly swaps out some of the more standard tartare ingredients for things like pine nuts, gochujang and shiitake to bring this traditionally French dish into his Asian comfort zone.
This next dish was simple but so delicious. Deep fried maitake mushroom, seasoned with za’atar and served atop a smoked dijon mustard sauce. If for some fucked up reason I ever have to give up meat, I would need to consume a lot more fungus like this to try to fill the void. It was meaty, savory, and satiating.
This is grilled baby squid with charcoal garlic oil, kewpie mayo and micro daikon.
The charcoal garlic oil was really something special here. Very simple cook on the squid, but lots of complexity in the sauce.
These giant grilled head-on prawns were massive!
The simple preparation of soy, ponzu and citrus salt allowed them to really shine for the superb products that they are. Make sure you suck the juices out of their heads!
I really dig rice cakes. This Korean version is like gnocchi, only made with rice flour instead of semolina and egg.
This preparation is kinda like mac and cheese; it’s baked with creamy white cheddar and garlic oil, and then topped with spicy cod roe. It might sound weird, but this and the tartare were my favorite dishes of the night! These were like little pillows of chewy goodness with a touch of crunch on the outside, all in a velvety cheese sauce.
There was so much meat on this baby, and every bit of it was juicy and bursting with flavor. I’m convinced this is the best part of the fish. I loved every bite, and it went well with the soy and yuzu lemon zest seasoning that was on it.
This next beautiful and tasty dish is fried rice with pickled mustard greens and mustard seed. Nothing goes better with fried rice than a sunny side up egg. Bur seriously, how gorgeous is this?
The hits just keep on coming. Buttermilk fried chicken:
All the best, most tender parts here. And that dipping sauce is a chili and black sesame mayo. Really nice.
This was a 30-day dry aged Niman ranch cut, which was grilled up and served with a nice house spice made with dried mushrooms and a bunch of other umami bomb type ingredients. Really flavorful!
And last but not least, dessert:
These are Chinese fried dough crullers with white caramel ice cream on a bed of chocolate coffee crumble. Such a dynamic and interesting combination of flavors.
In fact that’s kind of the theme running through the entire meal. Every bite keeps you guessing, and every dish is not only visually arresting, but amazingly tasty as well.
One final note about this place: I love how casual it is. The food is all stunning and delicious, but there is no pretense or attitude. There’s plenty of space to stretch out between tables, unlike other crowded izakaya spots around the city.
There’s also some great bar seating as well.
I highly recommend this place. Get over there and give it a try.
When I see something that’s marketed as Japanese-Italian fusion, the first thing that comes to my mind is Super Mario Brothers, one of the best video games ever released by Nintendo.
But now, since having this meal, the next thing that comes to mind is Natsumi Tapas. Natsumi is the latest venture by Barbara Matsumara, and it focuses on small plates for grazing and larger plates for sharing. She consulted with Italian chef Andrea Tiberi and sushi chef Hiroyuki Nagao to create a dynamic menu that gets increasingly interesting the more you look at it. I was invited in for a press meal with Jay from The Dishelin Guide, so we got to taste a lot of stuff. Here’s what we had:
First, a nice pour of sake from this very cool bottle that houses the ice inside the center without touching the sake and thereby watering it down.
This place also mixes up some really nice cocktails too, by the way, like the EMW, which is made with shiso leaf, sake and gin.
We started with this filet mignon, which was served sliced, tataki style, with a ponzu, garlic and truffle sauce. The truffle and garlic really brought an awesome fusion flavor to an otherwise Japanese flavored dish. While this wasn’t a traditional “steak” in the sense of a steakhouse cut or portion size, I’m still going to score it since it was worth discussing. 8/10. I definitely recommend this dish.
Next up was the tuna tartare martini with avocado and caviar. The orange layer at the bottom definitely had some tobiko mixed in for a nice change-up in texture. Very smart. The mango and basil pesto sauce really made this pop with unorthodox and surprisingly good flavor combinations. Also recommended.
While the flatbread wasn’t exactly the pizza dough crust that I imagined (it was more like a puffy cracker), it did pack a lot of flavor. We tried the spicy tuna caviar flatbread. It wasn’t as much of a fusion as some of the others seemed to be, like the seared salmon flatbread, but it was really delicious nonetheless. If you’ve ever had “sushi pizza” before at some other restaurants, it is somewhat similar to that, and always a crowd-pleaser.
This bowl of green tea gnocchi with asparagus and capers in a light butter sauce was absolutely perfect. Definitely my favorite item of the night, by far. While it leaned a bit more on the Italian side, it was probably one of the better gnocchi dishes I’ve had in town. The green tea flavor was very mild, but the sauce was drinkable. I highly recommend this dish when you go here. Not only was it tasty, but it was also beautiful.
We finished our savory courses with the Squarano roll; seared tuna, seared salmon, kani, avocado, scallion, pepperoncini and green tea aioli. This was pretty tasty, and nicely nestled into the fusion realm with the addition of an aioli and pepperoncini from Italian cuisine. Really, you can’t go wrong with any of their special roll selections. They all looked great.
For dessert we tried the cheese cake tempura, which was nice and crispy outside, and soft like mashed potatoes inside. It had just the right amount of sweetness, and the berry compote on the plate was the perfect way to incorporate a sauce element.
Definitely give this place a shot. It just opened in March and the place was packed to the gills when we went on a Tuesday night at 7pm. The ambiance is comfortable, not too dim, not too bright, not too loud and very spacious, which is a welcome addition to the NYC Japanese restaurant world.
Tabelog hosted another press dinner with a collection of about 30 NYC food bloggers, influential instagrammers and publication writers. This time the event kicked off at Andanada, a Spanish tapas joint on the upper west side.
Michelin rated chef Manuel Berganza popped off a string of really tasty bites in this multi-course tapas tasting in a rustic yet upscale setting that elevates tavern food to the fine-dining level.
Since there’s a lot to talk about, I’m just going to get right down to business and tell you what we ate. Read on:
First was this shot of warm butternut squash cream. It was velvety smooth, but I think it could have used just a small hit of salt.
This cleverly displayed flower pot of purple endive was a nice fresh snack. Endive is traditionally served before or after meals to aid in digestion. It was served with a blue cheese spread.
Next was this little manchego cheese stuffed “puff” airbag of flatbread that included a little hit of quince fruit jam as well. Beautiful presentation and a delicious bite!
Table bread consists of a very nice foccacia style bread (but without the annoying herbs and oily toppings). This was addicting!
This next item was one of my favorites of the night. It was a soft boiled quail egg served on a fried potato nest with chicken liver pate. SO DELICIOUS! The crunch of the potato nest, the ooze of the egg yolk and the richness of the pate made for a really dynamic bite.
These little guys are creamy mushroom duxelle croquettes with a marinated mushroom cap on top. They burst with flavor!
These are potatoes. My guess is something like fingerling, since the shape is small and round. They’re fried to a crisp and then served with three sauces: a garlic aioli, a spicy sauce and a sweet sauce. I preferred the aioli (also went nicely on the bread), but I think the potatoes could have benefited from a hit of salt right after they came out of the fryer.
Next was fried (but not heavily breaded) calamari with eggplant mousse. The calamari was incredibly tender and perfectly cooked. The eggplant I could skip, because I am generally not a fan of eggplant, but I did like the texture of the mousse much better than the flesh of the actual vegetable itself.
My other favorite dish was this octopus terrine, which was served over whipped potato foam and broccoli rabe puree. SO TENDER. This went fast and seemed to be a favorite with everyone else as well. I considered asking for a second plate.
These fried artichokes don’t look glamorous, but they taste great. They were crispy outside, soft inside and nicely accented with shaved manchego cheese and a cream sauce.
Another great item was the salmon tartare potato salad. In addition to the raw diced salmon on top, there was peas, salmon roe, hard boiled egg and (obviously) potato within. Very interesting take on traditional salmon tartare.
A Spanish classic is “albondigas,” or meatballs. These were accompanied by pickled celery, carrot puree and trinxat: a mashed potato item typically married with cabbage and pork.
Another big crowd pleaser, and staple Spanish classic, is paella. This seafood paella was our final savory course. It had a great crispy texture to the rice, from sticking to the bottom of the pan while cooking. It came with clams, mussels, scallops, shrimp and fish. Very nicely executed.
The first dessert I tasted was this caramelized egg yolk flan with citrus gel, green apples and dried meringue. The texture was super smooth and creamy. If you’re a fan of custards, you’ll love this.
The other dessert was my favorite of the two: almond cake with raspberries and olive oil gelato. This was perfect for me. It wasn’t too sweet to the point of being overpowering, and the cake was moist without being too dense. The gelato was a great accent to a great cake. I highly recommend this if you’re undecided on dessert.
To sum up, I haven’t been to that many tapas places. Maybe half a dozen over the course of my adulthood? Maybe ten? While I am no expert, I think this comes in on the upper end of the few that I’ve tried to date. This joint is located near my apartment as well, so I’m sure I’ll be back again soon.
NOTE: THIS PLACE HAS MOVED AND I HAVE AN UPDATED REVIEW: CLICK HERE.
My wife and I were recently invited to Nai, a Spanish tapas bar in the east village, for a press dinner.
This place slings classic Spanish tapas that hail from Galicia, but they also serve some high-end molecular gastronomy as well as fine dining cuisine. But at first glance, the inside might not make you think about fine dining. By no means do I mean to suggest that the decor is not good. On the contrary. It’s set up like a warm, inviting and cozy tavern. Very low key. There’s lots of custom dark wood fixtures and furniture, and even some artwork on the walls.
On the food and service angle, though, this place is nothing short of 5-star dining. What you’re getting here is high quality fine dining in a cozy, rustic setting, with beautiful plating and stellar service, all at an affordable price. The 40 different tapas on the menu range from $6 to $15 a piece. I mean, shit… they even offer a prix fixe deal for 12 or more guests: 10 dishes and unlimited open bar for 2.5 hours at just $45. That’s unheard of!
The wine list is 95% Spanish, and all the beer on tap and in bottles are also Spanish, with the exception of one Ommegang farmhouse saison (one of my favorites, which was served with our first courses). I tasted this refreshing wheat beer:
In April or May, Nai will expand its space into an upstairs second floor, which will have an open view test kitchen and a more experimental menu. In addition, the wine list will become 100% Spanish, with a much larger selection.
They offer happy hour specials, a live flamenco band and flamenco dancing on Thursdays and Saturdays, and six different flavors of sangria, including mango and blueberry. Pitchers of sangria are just $22 during happy hour and all night Monday through Wednesday.
Nai means “mother” in Gallego, which is meaningful because Chef Ruben has garnered all of the traditional tapas recipes from his mother (also a chef and restaurateur), and in turn, his mother’s mother. He’s added his own touch since studying under famous Spanish chefs from Europe, picking up newer, more modern and more technical styles. There are 15 tapas that he considers to be core items, which are always available on the menu. The other 25 items change seasonally.
Having grown up in his mother’s restaurants in Spain, Ruben is comfortable in, and passionate with, his craft. He’s always striving for more, to be better, to take his food to the next level, and he’s constantly shooting for perfection. This passion is reflected in his food, as what I tasted at this meal was truly some of the best tapas I’ve ever had.
Essentially we had a multi-course fine dining experience here, with wine pairings for each. I’ll take you through each course below.
This first bite was a hint of that molecular gastronomy style of high-tech cheffery. It looks like an olive, but it is essentially a small edible water balloon filled with liquefied olive. A great way to open up the taste buds.
Next up was a platter of thinly sliced jamon and a bowl of marinated REAL olives. Very simple, very beautiful, and very delicious.
Those two courses paired with the Ommegang farmhouse saison.
These mini-airbags were like a crispy yet soft pastry filled with creamy manchego cheese foam. It was cool and savory. I immediately exclaimed that I could pop these for hours. Very deadly.
There was also this delicious plate of bluepoint oysters with a lemon foam as garnish. These go for $14 per half dozen. Not bad! They’re bright, crisp, creamy and fresh.
Those bites were paired with cava that was mixed with lemon, orange rind and fresh mint. Watch as David Martinez, co-owner, wine director and general manager, swirls it up before pouring:
The next course was one of two favorites for me; a delicious sea bass wrapped in thin-sliced crispy toast and then topped with asparagus that was wrapped in prosciutto. What a perfect bite here! Soft, crunchy, savory, juicy and light.
In fact that’s something that runs through all the courses here: lightness. Nothing felt heavy or burdensome to eat, which is a feat given the ham-heavy offerings available here.
Shrimp in garlic sauce was next. The sauce on these babies was amazing. We sopped it up with some bread after devouring all the perfectly cooked shrimp in the skillet.
This next dish is crab meat wrapped in avocado and then topped with crisped ham sprinkles. It was a lot like a sushi roll, though I felt that it needed a touch of finishing salt. The crispy ham on top didn’t quite have that savory salt-punch that I expected. In any event, this was a light, fresh and creamy-textured dish.
Those fish items were paired with an albarino single grape wine that was crisp and refreshing.
This palate cleanser was watermelon infused with sangria and topped with mint leaf.
The next dish was smoked chicken with Asian bbq glaze. The chicken is pre-smoked with hickory wood, then cooked sous vide style for hours, then glazed and skewered. The presentation is great with this dish. Watch as David lifts the cloche and wafts the smoke:
The chicken was tender and soft, and the glaze was key for adding that salty, spicy-sweet kick.
We also had these fried croquettes that were filled with ham. They had a potato and cheese flavor and feel, with a crisp cornmeal texture on the outside.
This pork belly was super soft, and was served with a carrot puree and toasted pecans. It reminded me of Thanksgiving dinner!
These bites were paired with a three-grape red wine blend of cabernet, temperanillo and monestrell grapes. Super smooth.
Here comes my other favorite of the night: spicy basque chorizo, with manchego cheese and piquillo pepper on toast, topped with a fried quail egg. This is upscale breakfast at its finest! It had spice, smoke, fat, and ooey-gooeyness. The texture was dynamic.
The final savory course was this short rib platter. It came with fire roasted shishito peppers and diced potatoes in a cheese sauce. Very hearty but not heavy. It was a Spanish tapas nod to great American BBQ, if I had to fit it into a pre-conceived food notion.
These were paired with crianza red wine from an area south of Rioja, made with a temperanillo grape called “tinto fino.”
For dessert we had a small stick of pear flavored cotton candy. It was fun, and actually tasted like a mix of pear and sour apple.
Finally, there was this incredible chocolate filled churro. The outside was crisp and light, and the inside was soft and fluffy. It was filled with a melty chocolate and nutella mixture that was decadent.
Dessert was paired with a nice sweet white moscatel dessert wine.
This place is amazing. I will definitely be back for happy hour, sangria night and flamenco night. I think my next party or event will probably be here too. There’s amazing food, amazing service and everything is really fairly priced.
A good thing to know for those with diet restrictions: Chef Ruben whipped up this vegetarian menu with only 30 minutes notice regarding one of the press meal invitees. I tasted a few things from this menu, and they were all delicious.