Earlier this summer, East Village locals were devastated to find their beloved Nai Tapas closed. Fortunately, the restaurant did not shutter permanently, rather it moved from 1st Avenue to a larger location on 2nd Avenue, continuing to serve their amazing Galician cuisine.
Chef Ruben Rodriguez hails from Galicia, bringing his family roots from Spain to New York City. In Gallego, the language of Galicia, nai means “mother”, which is fitting since Chef Rodriguez’s mother, Ana Maria Gonzalez Arias, is at the center of his creations. He learned the tricks of the trade growing up around his mother’s restaurant, Merendero Cave in Spain, and brought traditional Galician tapas to New York City in 2010 when he first opened Nai Tapas on 1st Avenue.
8 years later, Nai Tapas has now found a larger location to expand its creativity, but adhering to its reputation of excellent tapas.
The menu is divided into two parts: Tapas Modernas and Tapas Traditionales. For the a la carte menu they recommend picking three to four dishes per person, a couple from each part of the menu, and be willing to share.
We were offered some excellent recommendations, but ultimately it was too hard to choose so opted for the chef’s tasting menu. The tasting menu changes based on seasonal ingredients and are customizable to fit dietary restrictions. Not only does it include 10 to 14 dishes, it includes a sangria or wine pairing. Many of the top dishes from the a la carte menu are incorporated so you get a well-rounded assortment of their offering. The chef’s tasting menu is only available by reservation, so be sure to call in advance and also let them know of any dietary preferences.
In addition to using fresh, premium ingredients, Chef Rodriguez combines flavors and textures, and uses each plate as a canvas to artistically present each dish, with a splash of theatrics.
One of my favorites of the night was the Tostada de Lubina, Chilean Sea Bass wrapped in toasted baguette topped with asparagus and serrano ham. So much flavor! Accompanying this was the Bocados de Salmon, sushi-grade seared salmon that was flamed at the table, over saffron rice drizzled with alioli gratin.
Hands down the most impressive presentation of the night was the Pollo al la Brasa, plated right in front of you at the table like a work of art. Parchment paper is first set down in front of you, and the ingredients and sauces are prepared right under your eyes and nose. Broiled chicken thighs are marinated in sweet mustard and topped with tobiko, seaweed and pickled shallots. The sauces of avocado purée and both spicy and mild mayo are delicately placed. Voilà!
That would be difficult to top, but the subsequent dishes were also excellent. The pork belly of the Barriga de Cerdo is first is marinated for three days, then lain over a bed of puréed carrots and topped with crunchy yuca chips and candied walnuts. For the Coliflor al Horno, our cauliflower of the day was a roasted cauliflower head with a curry sauce with avocado, cilantro, garlic, lime, and peanuts. The cauliflower was first presented whole and they snipped it into smaller pieces at the table.
To accompany all of the food, we had a few beverages to wash it all down. We started with a light champagne sangria, followed by a Toro Spanish wine, and before dessert a sweet sherry as a digestif.
Despite bursting at the seams, there is always room for dessert, and you simply cannot miss out. The churros are warm and come stuffed with chocolate, but shockingly I managed to not ooze everywhere. The almond tart offered a little bit of sweetness without being overbearing, and would go great with a cup of coffee.
The chef’s tasting menu is definitely the way to go and will make your dining experience much more memorable, but you also will not go wrong with any choice from the a la carte menu. If you want to go the more traditional route, they offer Pulpo a la Gallega (boiled Galician-style octopus), Tortilla Española (a traditional Spanish omelet), Patatas Bravas, Croquetas de Pollo or Jamon, and Gambas al Ajillo (shrimp in garlic sauce).
With this new location also comes more meals! Brunch and lunch are now available every day, which includes an amazing selection of both sweet and savory toasts, such as fresh garlic tomato toast with Spanish extra virgin olive oil and sea salt, or Spanish cinnamon French toast with banana whipped cream and fruit compote. Also new is a front window that opens onto 2nd Avenue for passersby to order tapas or a Batido shake on the go.
Nai Tapas is a great spot to impress a date and share elegant dishes, or to accommodate a group of friends for a night out. Better yet, Flamenco dancers grace the floors on Thursday and Saturday nights to get the party going. Book this for your holiday dinner or your next birthday celebration!
85 2nd Avenue
at 5th Street
New York, NY 10003