Nai Tapas New York | Art Inspired From Within

Nai: mother [in Gallego, the language in Galicia, Spain].

Situated on the corner of 5th Street and 2nd Avenue in East Village of New York, Nai Tapas has shifted into its current address from a smaller spot nearby on First Avenue, the original restaurant location that opened back in 2010. Helmed by the Galicia-native Chef, Ruben Rodriguez, the tapas restaurant is based off of something internal and deep within; his childhood and the exposure to the restaurant life since he was a kid, growing up at his mother’s restaurant in Spain and how it all became a part of his lifestyle, eventually fueling his culinary process. Inspired by his grandmother and nai’s traditional homemade Galician recipes that focused on traditional tapas, he set out on his own journey to experiment and create a modern tapas menu; one that showcases the standard but also perfectly and creatively marrying it with techniques of molecular gastronomy and adding in his own ideas and imagination of a contemporary twist. The restaurant is also a reflection of the development and amplification of his creativity and artistry.

Art: works produced by human creative skill and imagination.

Upon walking into the eatery, you get a rustic and calm feeling through its interior design and use of materials for décor. However, there is still a cozy aspect of the overall space that makes it rather warm and is able to create an enjoyable ambiance for a great dining experience. The large and wide span of storefront window and glass opens up to Second Avenue, exposing the restaurant entirely and revealing its use of raw cement walls and various metals like copper hung on walls around the space. There are also artwork and sculptures from the original Nai location, and even an aerial view of the chef’s mother’s restaurant in Spain. It somehow truly reflects and symbolizes the purity and rawness of Chef Rodriguez’s childhood memories and culinary ideas; rustic/simple yet very warm – like that of something pure from within and really close to the heart.

Barriga De Cerdo

The featured menu at Nai Tapas is divided into Tapas Modernas and Tapas Tradicionales, all curated to be shared amongst the guests. To start from the list of modern tapas, the Carpaccio de Portobello, Bocados de Salmon, Tostada de Lubina, Almejas a la Brasa and many more are great options. The Carpaccio de Portobello is extremely light, despite the fact that the mushrooms are marinated in truffle oil and topped with manchego cheese. The truffle oil gives each bite a charming aroma, tempting you to keep eating. The marcona almonds provided a crunch, contrasting the texture of the mushrooms. It is served beautifully, spread across a big plate, resembling an artistic painting of the ground in the springtime, covered with greens and white flower petals.

Crujiente De Rabo Y Trucha

The Bocados de Salmon is seared salmon over saffron rice with aioli gratin. The salmon is torched right before your eyes, so the aroma of the salmon oil hits you immediately. The bite-size tapa is perfect as an appetizer, not too light but not too heavy. The salmon oil fills the rice with the just right amount of moisture and flavor. The natural flavor of the salmon still shines through the smokiness from the torching and the aioli balances the overall combined taste. The Tostada de Lubina is a glazed Chilean sea bass wrapped in toast and topped with Serrano ham asparagus. The toast gives the bite the crunch it needs to contrast with the soft texture of the fish, but also complement each other at the same time. The balsamic vinegar reduction wraps up the bite and clears up your palate.

The Almejas a la Brasa, broiled clams with lemon zest, cilantro, and yuzu, is a simple and refreshing break. The fresh scraping of lemon zest and the placing of the cilantro and yuzu over the clams are all done in front of you, so guests can enjoy the visual process as well.

Tostada De Lubina

If you wish to stick with more modern tapas, the Basmati beet rice with manchego cheese, truffle Portobello and poached egg, (Arroz de Remolacha) pork belly with candied pecans and yucca chips over carrot cream, (Barriga de Cerdo) and broiled sweet mustard marinated chicken thighs with tobiko, seaweed and champagne pickled shallots (Pollo a la Brasa) are a must try as well. The Pollo a la Brasa is a presented step by step, like a painting at the guests’ dining table. The finished product is a work of art, visually appealing and appetizing with the use of different colors from the sauces across the board. To move on to the more traditional tapas on the menu, there are many options like the Rabo Guisado, Pulpo a la Gallega, and other traditional ones.

The Rabo Guisado is served in a small pot with braised oxtail and potatoes. This dish hits the spot because of its resemblance to a home cooked dish. The oxtail is full of flavors and the sauce almost makes this dish a stew instead, but can be perfectly served over rice or dipped with bread.

Pollo a La Brasa

[His tapas are designed to surprise and delight his guests, but the ultimate goal is always heightening flavor and presentation.]

Every dish is enjoyable, from its aesthetics to its aromas to its taste. Absolutely a feast for all senses, each one as a separate and unique art piece showcased in front of your eyes. The delicious scents from each one tackle you during the presentation of the dish, even before you consume it. And when you do, you are greeted with countless surprises in flavors, taking you on a tour from one tapa to the next. It only makes sense that the chef achieves this from the amount of time and thought process put into it, beginning his creative culinary process with a sketch, and then bringing the full image to life on the plate using sous-vide, emulsions, and other contemporary techniques. It is all perfectly curated and designed to ‘wow’ the audience.

Ramen Gallego

With the help of Sommelier Daniel Proveda’s Spanish wine list, impeccable wine pairings can be arranged for your tapas throughout your meal to enhance your overall dining experience. Nai Tapas has an extensive list of 100% Spanish wines, beers, eight flavors of Sangria, and vegetable-based low-alcohol cocktails. For example, there are red wines like Bodegas Mas Alta Artigas Priorat 2014 and the Teso La Monja Almirez Toro 2015.

Using what is closest to him and incorporating his own twist to create a gallery full of amazing artworks in the form of tapas, Chef Rodriguez does just that and beautifully at Nai Tapas. Combining the roots in the traditional Galician tapas and tying it seamlessly with the flare of molecular gastronomy. Not only will the tapas satisfy you in taste, but it will also do so through other senses as well.  

 Whether modern or traditional, the tapas are infused with memories of childhood in Galicia, the chef’s mother, and his own creative journey and experiments over the past decade.

Photography Courtesy Nai Tapas NYC