Friday, November 4, 2011

NUELA's Nouveau Latin-American Cuisine Continues to Vibe








"Chifa" Ceviche
On the heels of its first birthday, I visited Nuela, the sleek South American restaurant in Manhattan’s Flatiron district headed by Chef Adam Schop. The Latin flare is appropriately overstated in the decor with blazing red and orange accents and boisterous beats that encourage a shimmy. This vibrant reminder of Miami Beach nightlife could be obnoxious to the sophisticated New York diner, easily misconstrued as a “scene” to distract from the lack of flavorful fare. Luckily, Nuela rebuts that assumption the instant you take a bite of the doughy cheese-laden “pao de qeijo” rolls. Suddenly you realize you are on to something good. This amuse is just the beginning of what can be a promising tapas tasting fiesta. It’s no wonder it made Adam Platt’s “Where to Eat” 2011 list for New York Magazine, and critic Sam Sifton’s positive New York Times review sighted the signature $32 per person Arroz con Pato. Though this - gargantuan enough to be a meal all its own - did not fit into my spread, it certainly warrants a return visit.


The cocktail list I will warn is tropically tailored to the sweet palate. What seemed to be the least saccharine choice, the Espumoso Sour with strawberry-infused Pisco, bitters and a lemon-basil foam, wound up (dangerously) tasting exactly like Kool-aid. If you are more of a straight shooter, they make a mean Pisco sour with fresh lime juice and aromatic cinnamon sans the syrup.

Schop shines with the ceviches and the desserts. I never met a marinated fish I did not love and after tasting them all, the strongest was the simplest: the traditional “ceviche tipico,” naked in nothing but lime juice, red onion, and crisp kernels of hominy. Second to that was the Thai-inspired “Chifa,” meaty hamachi cubes beautifully adorned with crunchy peanuts, scallions and sesame oil and a tinge of Thai chili.

Surprise will come in the thoughtfulness of the house-made desserts, a perfect ending note and lasting impression. The dark chocolate terrine is uber indulgent with gloriously glazed almonds to mirror the homemade almond sorbet and soft-fried banana. Equally satisfying is the passion fruit flan-like curd which melts with creamy coconut and macaroon crumbles. You cannot go wrong with any ice cream or sorbet to scoop.

Also noteworthy were the Peruvian “anitcucho” shrimp skewers with a delicate char and accompanied by a bowl of grilled corn kernels tossed with crispy pork pieces. Also boasting crispy pork was the tamal, the latter a bit on the dry side. The cod “Cau Cau” fillet was thick and moist though mildly flavored with peas and mint. Also simply straightforward was the charred octopus causa. Piled on top of a classic potato puree, this golden whipped bed is worthy as a side dish all its own.

The side dish that will warm the heart is the creamy quinoa, a hybrid of risotto and grits, soaking up just the right amount of milk. And if you have to order one all-encompassing, satisfying dish, the generously fat pork chop “Feijoda” will not disappoint. Expertly crisped on the bone to a juicy pink interior, it rests atop the most glorious pile of black beans stewed with rich layers of linguica Portuguese pork sausage. (These are smartly offered as a side dish and must be ordered if you don’t opt for the chop.)

Whether you dabble here and there, or commit to a “plato fuerte” at Nuela, cheery staff and a seasoned chef will confidently remind you how far a little Latin spice can go.


Cheesy Bread Rolls

Espumoso Sour

Pisco Sour

Crispy Pork Tamal

Shrimp Anticuchos with Corn

Octopus & Shrimp Causa
Octopus Ceviche

Classic Ceviche

Pork Chop with Black Bean Stew

Cod Cau Cau

Pineapple Ceviche

Quinoa

Dark Chocolaate Terrine

Passion Fruit Curd & Sorbet

Sorbets & Ice Cream Scoops

Nuela
43 W 24th Street, NYC
(212) 929-1200

All photos by Rebecca Kritzer