When she set out to create a piu piccola version of Natsumi, Barbara Matsumura (Haru, Daruma, Joe’s Shanghai) set up shop in Gramercy. Here, she stepped up the game on the mix of Japanese and Italian flavors, but cut the size. In Natsumi Tapas, Matsumura, along with the talents of Italian chef Andrea Tiberi and sushi chef Hiroyuki Nagao (Nobu, Blue Ribbon Sushi, Haru,) presents an extensive Japanese, Italian, and somewhere-between-the-two menu of smaller plates to share. Manager Porche Prasertchoang, said, with Natsumi Tapas, they wanted to offer food with the same theme as the restaurant’s predecessor, but with smaller portions and at a lower price point for the customer.
We came to Natsumi Tapas early in the evening, before any crowd came in, so it wasn’t difficult for the staff and the management to be attentive to our needs. This did give us the chance, however, to bend their ears and get the skinny on what their favorites were and what we should try. We chose a few of their suggestions and went for a few of our own as well. The restaurant’s mood is calm and chill and comfortable. I felt that I was welcomed to stay a while.
Dinner began with cocktails. The Peach Amore (tequila, peach puree, and lime juice) was sticky sweet on the lips and felt rich and jammy on the tongue. This cocktail’s flavors were deftly balanced. It was a great cocktail to start off and carry me through the first half of our meal. The Cachaca based Berry Press seemed to pack more of a punch with more cachaca and lime flavor than berry.
Our first dish, the Filet Mignon Tataki, was definitely the highlight of the meal. It is a decadent treat. Filet mignon, barely seared and left black and blue, barely sticking a toe into truffle oil and topped with delicate scallions. The combination of the tender meat and the truffle oil resulted in a deliciously buttery flavor. It was the perfect size for two people to start off what would become a filling evening of eclectic food.
We ordered two rolls, the Doppio Toro Roll and the Live Soft Shell Crab special. Soft shell crab is in season, and these were live, so we decided it would be a good idea to take advantage of this special. It didn’t seem to have much Italian influence in it, but shouldn’t the special veer off the beaten path a bit? I’m glad they did. The Toro roll was presented with a basil puree and balsamic reduction that really worked its charm on the fish.
The drinks at Natsumi Tapas are potent, and while these were really good, I don’t know that they fit this point in our tasting. Our server, Ben, had done such a good job of expediting the first half of our experience, the second half had a lot to live up to, and the strong spice of the Jalapeno Margarita would have fared better before dinner. The Geisha was a nice, minty concoction with a strong blueberry flavor (from the blueberry vodka and the blueberry infused sake. The Whiskey Honey seems to be a favorite of the house, made with Japanese whiskey, yuzu honey, and yuzu juice. They offer a wide selection of wine, sake, beer, and martinis as well.
I’m usually not one to jump at tofu, but the Tofu Veggie Toban Yaki came recommended and came out sizzling. We used the tofu to sop up the rich, savory garlic sauce and the vegetables were cooked to a light crunch. The shiitake and king mushrooms definitely added to the dish as they seemed to hold the most flavor. We followed this with an even richer Grilled Shiitake Penne. Once again, the mushrooms made the dish, highlighted by black truffle.
Ben, who had a complete knowledge of what is a very lengthy menu, talked us into dessert. These desserts are big enough for two, so if you are at this point of your visit and craving something sweet, or even just stopping by for a treat, opt for the Tempura Cheesecake. The banana spring roll was tasty, gooey and flaky at the same time, but the squares of cake covered in a blistered skin of their sweet tempura are far superior.
There are still a ton of things I would love to try on Natsumi Tapas’ menu, so I am definitely looking forward to a return visit. I think trying more of the Italian-rooted selections would be a good idea. They offer Ciao Meatballs, Flatbread Pizzas, and Green Tea Ricotta Flatbread as well as raw bar selections.
If you are looking for a place to hang out early in the evening or at night, Natsumi Tapas holds a happy hours from 4:30pm – 6:30pm and 10:30pm until close. They easily accommodated a party of 10 while we were there, so this a perfect place to bring friends and family. You can find more information on their website at http://www.natsumitapas.com or call 212.889.2186. Natsumi Tapas is located at 323 Third Avenue, at 24th Street.