Nai Tapas has reached a special restaurant milestone, as it celebrates its 10-year anniversary, serving exceptional Spanish tapas in the East Village and creating a truly memorable dining experience for the last decade. Owned by Galicia-native Chef Ruben Rodriguez, nai, which means mother in Gallego, is an ever-evolving love letter to Chef Rodriguez’s mother Ana Maria Gonzalez Arias and grandmother, Emilia Arias, who he accredits for his unwavering culinary passions and the traditional Galician recipes that one will find on his menu.
Now Rodriguez is taking a bold step towards the future with the launch of his new restaurant group Nai Management LLC. The group will encompass Nai, Amigo by Nai, the Spring 2021 launch of Avoa, meaning grandmother in Gallego that will serve as an all-day café plating farm to table tapas in the back with coffee creations from Coffee Project at the front, and numerous other concepts that have already broken ground.
Executive Chef Ruben Rodriguez spent his days growing up in his mother’s restaurant Merendero Cave in Galicia, Spain where he fell in love with the culinary arts and learned the trade secrets of his mother’s recipes. He moved from Spain to the U.S. working at numerous NYC kitchens and finally opened his own restaurant in 2010. A Chef is only as strong as the team he keeps and with him he brings Chef de Cuisine Rolando Flores, his right hand man for the last 16 years and his other Chef de Cuisine Sebastian Cambeiro; Beverage Director Niko Hagerty, who has known Ruben since he was a child and is a Flamenco performer at Nai Tapas; and Front of House Director Raul Oleaga, who has been with Ruben since beginning and previously served as the Director of Operations at ViCool by Michelin-starred chef Sergi Arola in Madrid. New to the team is the Director of Operations Christopher Harkness, who was the Director of Operations for Roberta’s and the Culinary Director for the Plaza. Together they have created a well-oiled hospitality machine ensuring a seamlessly inspiring and always playful dining adventure every time.
Chef Rodriguez, who can be looked at as somewhat of a culinary mad scientist consistently experimenting with flavors and different techniques, plates a menu that is divided into Tapas Modernas and Tapas Traditcionales. However, the embodiment of the Nai Tapas experience lies in the ever-changing tasting menu, which will kick off with a Spanish style amuse bouche with four bites from different regions of Spain carefully plated on top of glass cubes revealing four different cartoon images drawn by Rodriguez that represent each. The tasting menu can be paired with a thoughtful wine list designed by top Spanish Sommelier Daniel Poveda, 2009 Best Sommelier of Madrid or sangria.
Each of the menus at Nai, in which all the dishes are first drawn on paper by Rodriguez with pen and paper, are infused with memories of his childhood in Galicia, his mother’s home cooking and his impassioned effort to always be experimenting with different flavors and techniques in his kitchen.
The Tapas Tadicionales menu has new selections such as Chipirones Con Fabas, grilled baby squid with Valencia faba beans with a Pedro Ximenez balsamic reduction; and Endivias with red Belgian endive, three-month majored pimentos cheese, candied pecans and granny smith apples with rose vinegar and lemon. While fan favorites have solidified their place on the menu with options including Rabo Guisado, tempranillo braised oxtail with a veal demi-glace; Pinxto De Chistorra Con Huevo De Codorniz, semi cured spicy Basque chorizo, red sweet piquillo peppers, four-month manchego cheese topped with a fried quail egg; and the most traditional dish the Pulpo a la Gallega, boiled La Coruna-Galicia imported octopus adorned with extra virgin olive oil, Spanish smoked de la vera paprika and Mediterranean sea salt.
The Tapas Modernas menu is where guests will find Rodriguez flex his creative mussels showcasing new dishes like Pollo A La Parilla, citrus brined chicken served with a sherry vinegar gastrique with fermented piquillo pepper, bird’s eye chili, lime, grapefruit, orange, topped with radish and cilantro. Tomate Desnudo will surprise palates with a showcase of napa grape cherry tomatoes placed on top of clear gazpacho gelatin with arbequina extra virgin olive oil, Pedro Ximenez sherry vinegar, mint, cilantro and Mediterranean sea salt. Tartare makes its Nai debut with 45-day aged prime ribeye, Jerusalem artichoke, cilantro and lime, dressed with Pedro Ximenez sherry vinegar and arbequina extra virgin olive oil. Alioli Prime Rib Katsu is a showstopping dish made with 45-day aged prime ribeye in Estrella Galicia beer batter with padron pepper, sandwiched between Hokkaido milk bread with a thin layer of garlic aioli.
Sommelier Daniel Poveda, who works with Raul Oleaga, has crafted a wine list that is 100% Spanish, spotlighting wines from small family-owned wineries, biodynamic, unfiltered and organic selections, chosen to perfectly complement the tapas menus. There’s also an extensive beer menu, eight flavors of Sangria including Champagne, Passionfruit White and Red, and a selection of cocktails curated by Beverage Director Niko Hagerty.
The bi-level space features modern minimalist decor. On the ground floor, you’ll find a marble bar and expertly spaced out tables to ensure social distancing with all different kinds of chairs for an eclectic vibe. The dining room is rustic with an urban edge boasting raw cement walls, accented with copper, and decorated with artwork from the original Nai. Upstairs, the dining room’s large floor to ceiling windows offer a panoramic view of a lively corner of the East Village. The space is also equipped with MERV-13 air filters.
Nai Tapas now also features al fresco dining complete with three propane heat lamps in preparation for the colder months ahead.
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