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Nai Tapas
Credit: Nai Tapas

Nai Tapas is in a new, East Village location at 2nd Avenue and 5th Street and it already feels like home. This week, I was lucky to taste a selection of Chef Ruben Rodriguez’s Galician rooted small plates accompanied by a flight of Spanish wines. Inspired by his own nai (mother) Rodriquez’s creations bring out the very best of each element used to construct these works of art.

Start your meal by sipping on a bright, palate opening, Txakolina from the Basque Country. Its citron and mineral flavors will get your taste buds ready for the velvety Basmati Beet Rice. This vividly colored dish is served with a poached egg that oozes across the grains, enriching the dish and working well with the buttery Manchego. Follow up with the Portobello Carpaccio, a plate of parchment-thin, mushroom marinated in white truffle oil and topped with more Manchego shavings. This stunning dish’s silky texture is complimented by the light crunch of ground almond and is a must try when you visit.

The decor at Nai Tapas is simple. Stripped back to concrete walls and Edison bulbs, there are few distractions from the real star of the show. The reclaimed tables and mismatched chairs are eclectic but still understated and provide for group seatings or more intimate, two-person experiences. The second floor has room enough for Flamenco nights and two walls of tall windows that provide a lively East Village backdrop.

If you enjoy seafood, ask for a glass of Penedes. This white’s big peach statement pairs beautifully with either salmon or sea bass. The Salmon Gratin is a slice of sashimi grade fish draped across freshly prepared sticky rice, drizzled with garlic aioli, and torched. Once it is lightly cooked, it is sprinkled with saffron. The result is a lovely bite where the salmon leads and is given a wonderful support by the rice. The aioli brings out the fat in the fish and that, in turn, is illuminated by the saffron. The Chilean Sea Bass Toast is a great counterpart to the preceding dish, in that its textures are flaky and crisp, packaged in dehydrated bread that is reconstituted with oil and pan fried. This is presented with twin asparagus bites tied together with heirloom Serrano ham.

Take advantage of a marinated watermelon bite to prepare yourself for the next, meatier dishes.  Melt-in-your-mouth Pork Belly, garnished with a candied pecan and a yuca chip is served along a carrot crème. It is a decadent and generous slice of slow-cooked pork that will seem even more succulent when you sip on a glass of Toro. If something sweeter is more your speed, try out a super-juicy Lomba dos Ares and sous vide, mustard marinated Chicken Thighs. These are plated table side on butcher paper along avocado, chipotle, and garlic aioli sauces. The bites are piled with seaweed, tobiko and Champagne-pickled shallot. The bite from the onion and crunch of the seaweed and the pop of the tobiko all make this a whimsical dish that will wow the guests. If, after all of that, you are in the mood for desert, try a Churro in chocolate or dulce de leche or a slice of Almond Tart with a Muscat.

Nai Tapas is open for lunch, brunch and dinner, Monday through Wednesday noon to 11pm, Thursday through Saturday noon to midnight, and Sunday noon to 10pm. You can contact them at (212)677-1030 or visit their online space at www.naitapas.nyc.