Magic Mike and Blumie, I'm curious to hear what you thought of Nuela if you ended up going. I went with three others this past weekend. There were some major highs and major lows, but I think the walkaway conclusion for me is that the chef, Adam Schop, is very creative and has a lot of potential.
My review, below. There are accompanying photos here: http://www.girleatscity.com/2011/04/n...
It looks like a cheesy 1980s nightclub -- one that might be named "Bento" or "Hiro" or something like that -- all red and black, with swathes of stretched, overlapping fabric interspersed here and there. On our recent visit, the wait staff were nice, but utterly ditzy, without much knowledge of the wine list or the menu. One server kept calling the cava we ordered "Champagne"; the other couldn't tell us what a moqueca was, though it was listed on the menu. I asked for our food to come whenever it became ready, since my party of four was sharing plates and not eating in courses. The server who took our order interpreted this to mean that ALL of our dishes should come at the same time, which made it impossible to eat much of the food warm and made us feel extraordinarily, unpleasantly rushed.
Yet despite the bumbling service -- completely inexcusable at this price point, in my opinion -- some of the food at Nuela, which draws from the cuisines of Peru, Colombia and Argentina, was undeniably good.
From the appetizers portion of the menu, we ordered a number of dishes, including the smoked brisket arepas with sweet plantain, black bean and queso blanco ($10). Half-dollar sized disks of arepas were fused to a round of fried green plantain of the exact same shape and size with creamy black bean. This two-layered disk was then topped with a generous mound of thickly cut brisket, which tasted more or less like pastrami -- perhaps a nod to New York City.
The beef heart anticuchos with aji panca and charred potato salad ($10) were even better. The three skewers, which came with two exactly-cut, one-inch cubes of beef heart, per skewer, were vividly, complexly flavored and with a perfect, chewy-but-tender texture.
Several of the dishes, including the charred octopus causa appetizer with aji amarillo potato puree, olives, avocado mousse ($14) were so beautifully plated, we felt regret at having to cut into the aesthetically perfect composition. Traditionally layered, this "open faced" version of causa was almost as delicious as it looked, though. The single layer of potato puree was topped with a bit of charred, tender octopus and an avocado mousse whose creaminess tempered the acidity of the potato base.
In addition to these three appetizers, we also tried two of the six ceviches offered on the menu. The first, a more traditional version where ingredients marinate for a relatively longer period, was a tiny portion of lobster, shrimp and octopus ceviche with charred tomatoes and rocoto ($14). The dish was dominated by shrimp and small mussels, a ingredient that interestingly was not mentioned on the menu at all. (I'm not sure I would've ordered the dish if mussels had been in the description.) There was very little detectable lobster. Flavors of the charred tomato and rocoto, an evidently obscure type of chili pepper with a slightly unfortunate Latin name, were very good, however, and well incorporated. The octopus was again very tender.
Our second ceviche was a more nuevo-style hamachi with aji amarillo leche de tigre and basil black garlic ($16), where a beautiful yellow, brightly acidic aji amarillo leche de tigre was brought out in a separate shot glass and poured over top just before serving. The hamachi was not as fresh as I would've liked for this type of preparation. The acid didn't really have a chance to "cook" the hamachi very thoroughly, so you could still taste a bit of fishiness from the hamachi. Black garlic, pureed and added in tiny, deeply flavorful droplets, added a tiny bit of sweetness.
After our ceviche palate cleansers, we tackled our three selections from the platos portion of the menu. The first, the scallop "picante” with parmesan crust, gnocchi, tomato and fennel ($26), was both the most beautiful and delicious dish of the evening (pictured at the top of this post). Huge, tender, very fresh sea scallops came perfectly cooked with a gorgeously crisp parmesan crust and a wonderful, creamy yellow (aji?) sauce. There was again a slight mismatch between the menu description and the dish actually served (there was no fennel as far as I could detect, but rather lovely, young, tender turnips, and the dish was not actually very picante at all), but in this case, I don't think it was to the dish's detriment.
Our next course was a disappointment, in truth. We ordered the lobster moqueca with kale and cashews ($34). What arrived was a miniscule portion of rubbery lobster: a small tail and a tiny bit of claw meat. I didn't really figure out what was moqueca about it. Other than the bit of coconut-milky, yellow liquid on the plate, the dish was hardly stew-like at all.
Our final plato thankfully fared a bit better. The short rib "lomo saltado" with tomatoes, Chinese broccoli and French fries ($29) was an interesting interpretation of the famous Chinese Peruvian dish that mostly worked. The short ribs were a pleasant ratio of fat to lean (there was some fat; it wasn't overwhelming) and they were extremely tender. These ribs were served atop a sauce that tasted unidimensionally of soy sauce. It was too salty, even for my salt-loving tastes. There were only a few bits of the tips of Chinese broccoli. A touch of the pleasantly bitter stem would have helped temper the dish's salt and fat.
Overall, there were some intense highs in this meal (the wonderful scallops, the lovely charred octopus in the causa) as well as some devastating lows (rubbery lobster). Despite the kinks, though, there is clearly a chef in this kitchen with great creativity and skill. Chef Adam Schop is one to follow.
43 W 24th St, New York, NY 10010
I'd love to hear about Ember Room too. Not only does the menu look interesting, the prices are quite low (assuming menupages is correct, as they oddly do not list the prices on their website), and I also notice that former Kittichai chef Ian Chalermkittichai is involved. I love Kittichai, so this looks very promising.
We were choosing between Ember Room and Bali Nusa Indah over the weekend. (They are right next to each other.) Unfortunately, we went with the (very mediocre) latter, but I will say that the decor at Ember Room is over-the-top and stunning in the same way that Tao's is. Evidently Todd English is involved, too. I have to say I like that you were excited about Chalermkittichai and not English. My sentiments, exactly. :)
Prices listed here say entrees run from $20-30: http://newyork.grubstreet.com/2011/02... -- probably still higher end for the neighborhood, but not bad by up- and downtown standards.
Bali Nusa Indah
651 9th Ave, New York, NY 10036
647 9th Ave, New York, NY 10036