Monday, May 9, 2011

A Trip to Latin America

Or, more accurately, a trip to Nuela, on W. 24th Street, where Peruvian haute cuisine is alive and well. Nuela opened last year and has done an admirable job of turning Latin American food into high-end art. The room is a vibrant red, sort of reminiscent of the color wash one might encounter in South Beach. It will appeal to some and not others, and sitting by the floor-to-ceiling windows only offers a vista of down-on-its-luck 24th Street. A better bet is probably to sit at the bar.

Before any food arrives, Nuela sends out tiny warm rolls made with yucca flour. They taste like elevated cornbread and come with a salted cream and honey for spreading. Pork belly with cheese-filled arepas and a ramp chimmichurri didn't disappoint, arranged architecturally into cubes and spheres. The short rib empanada, stuffed with a traditional savory-sweet cross of meat and golden raisins, was a success of flaky crust and earthy meat, even if the pie itself--one small serving--was a little too little to be an adequate appetizer.

The ceviches, as expected, stole the show. Blood red tuna came with a charred pineapple marinade and slices of watermelon and French breakfast radish, a spicy and crunchy compliment to all that sweet. Hamachi was served with a black garlic marinade that did not overtake the delicacy of the fish. Our only regret was not opting for the fish of the day, red snapper with chili, lime, and red onion.

Entrees at Nuela are offered in several ways. Some of the dishes are normal, entree sized portions and some are large format options for the table to share. They offer a suckling pig in three sizes--a quarter, half, and whole pig--as well as chicken, porterhouse, and duck. We chose the duck, served hot in a paella pan over rice, sugar snap peas, and market carrots. The manager came over to scrape the soccarat, or burnt rice bits, from the bottom of the pan. A confit of leg and a breast roasted rare accompanied a fat lobe of duck foie gras, not to be outdone by a duck egg, sunny-side-up. It was a transcendent take of an Andalucian dish.

The wine list at Nuela is heavily South American, not really my bag, and expensive for what it is. I found a bargain in a 2005 Shafer Merlot (not normally the type of wine I would have chosen, but supple enough to live up to the food). And I finished my meal with deep-fried cinnamon churros and hot chocolate for dipping, along with a glass of cream sherry, which may be the perfect way to end a Saturday night in New York.

43 West 24th Street
New York, NY 10010

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