Molecular gastronomy is essentially food science, and the study of how chemical and physical transformations might be applied to cooking. In more recent decades, the term has started applying to a culinary movement that favors the direct involvement of these different chemical processes in flavor and presentation.
Under the influence of Chef Ferran Adrià, Spain has become something of a paradise for molecular gastronomy, and Nai Tapas takes this a step further by revitalizing Galician classics with all kinds of technological advancements! Inspired by Adria’s discoveries, a rigorous training in the kitchen from his mother, and studies abroad in Europe Chef Ruben Rodriguez has cultivated a restaurant that joins simple bar snacks and bites with class and spectacle, breathing complexity and creativity into comfort food.
I sampled a vast array of courses that outnumbered even the most bountiful of Press Dinners I’ve attended in the past. Our first palette cleanser was an olive spherification, an orb of egg yolk-like texture made out of pure olive essence. It rolled and pulsated before bursting in my mouth with rich, salty flavor. This was followed by a platter of cured jamon and olives. The thinly sliced iberico ham was fatty and intense, even in small doses.
Next came the Airbags with Manchego Foam. Delicate pastries filled with the fluffy, deconstructed essence of sweet, nutty manchego cheese. The cheese within sublimated perfectly on the tongue, filling one’s senses with nutty, sheep’s milk goodness that continued to float around after the first bite was finished.
The oysters afterward were topped with their own foam as well in the form of lemon air. The juicy oysters could have come from an enchanted sea of fruit. An air can be described as an even more distilled and isolated type of foam. The tender, savory oysters tasted juicier beneath the citrus clouds , and the seafood dish was as refreshing as a good lemon sorbet! They are served alongside a glass of cava, sparking Spanish wine.
After that, I tried the sea bass wrapped in toast and topped with prosciutto-wrapped asparagus. A very decadent dish, I failed to realize it was fish right away. The fish within almost passed for a very hearty butter. It was just THAT creamy and deliquescent in texture! Between the crunch of the asparagus and the toast and the mingling flavors of meat and fish, this appetizer was unparalleled in complexity and enjoyment for me.
There was also a very interesting dish of fresh avocado stuffed with crab meat and topped with crumbled bits of serrano ham. It was a sushi roll with no rice and four times the flavor! Once again, the pairing of the charred bits of smoky ham with cool swirls of avocado and luscious crab meat created a diverse experience.
More conventional but no less tasty was the shrimp in garlic sauce. The shrimp was thick and succulent and went well with the perfectly oiled sauce. Make sure to sop up that sauce with any bread you have–it’s a garlicky, umami dream!
The second palette cleanser was a sangria-infused chunk of watermelon that was refreshing and definitely superior to enjoying things the other way around.
The meat courses were as plentiful and fruitful as the appetizers that preceded them. Smoked chicken skewers imbued with the strong taste of charcoal and tempered with an Asian-inspired honey sauce make for a great option. They are plated beneath a glass cover and just wafting with the strong, calming aroma of oak. There were also crispy Brussels sprouts with pork belly in a spicy mustard and spiced baby back ribs.
The pork belly with pecans and a crescent of carrot puree was definitely my top pick of all the meat dishes, however. The most mouth-watering, fatty chunks of belly meat paired with nutty pecans, and a summery, light smear of carrot puree all complimented each other in an elegant, flavorful dish. Sugary, fatty, and hearty, I gobbled up every bit of it with no regrets. Very balanced, fragrant, and filling!
A surprise course of quail egg, chorizo, and Manchego cheese on toast brought us a more traditional tapa, but a well done one nonetheless. It was a perfect Spanish breakfast sandwich in one bite with the itty-bitty quail egg fried expertly so that the yolk was runny and the sides of the whites were crispy and poised to pop into the mouth. The chorizo, like all of the other cured Spanish meats, was flavorful, and fiery in all the best ways.
Dessert consisted of churros injected with dark chocolate and homespun Pear Cotton Candy. The two were unique treats that further represented the many flavors and intricacies of molecular gastronomy, though I found myself extremely full by the time they arrived.
Nai also has an impressive Spanish wine collection, cultivated by the restaurant’s co-owner and manager, David Martinez. From 5-7 PM on week days, they offer a Happy Hour that consists of $5 wine glasses, $4 beers, and $22 pitchers of sangria. There’s also live Flamenco dance entertainment on Thursday and Saturday nights!
Reuben and David have truly created a foodie’s paradise, demonstrating that the wonders of molecular gastronomy are not solely reserved for the absurdly wealthy, European, or nerdy!
Nai Tapas Bar
Address: 174 First Avenue (Between 10th and 11th)
Phone Number: 212 – 677 – 1030
Dinner is served from:
5 PM-11 PM on Mondays-Wednesdays
5 PM-12 AM on Thursdays-Saturdays
Lunch is available from Noon- 4 PM on Saturdays and Sundays
Happy Hour is 5 PM -7 PM on Mondays-Fridays.