Last weekend, I explored the new Spanish restaurant in New York: Graffit [renamed “Gastroarte].
The story of how the chef came to New York was romantic and fun. Jesus Nunez owns and run two of the best restaurants in Madrid, Polenta and Flou. His reputation as Madrid best chef reached a well-known food magazine that sent a young reporter to interview him. Cupid was hiding in the kitchen – the chef and the reporter fell in love. Nunez followed her to New York on a tourist visa. But after a month the questions arose: What to do next? The answer was simple: open a restaurant. Thus Graffit was born.
Nunez is not your ordinary chef. His inspiration, he says, comes from architecture (he loves modern architecture and Frank Gehry) and Art (his favorite painter is Kandinsky). He wants both his idols to surprise you, enchant you, and throw you off base.
As you enter you’ll find a bar with high tables and stools where you can order Tapas with your drink.
The restaurant is a long narrow room with a large mural of a Spanish bullfight on one wall. At the end of the room, behind a large bay window, is lovely garden. The tables are white, square very simple –no tablecloth. The cutlery is beautifully designed. “Everything is my design, with the help of the architect,” Nunez says with an impish smile. Jesus Nunez is young, handsome, and charming – it is easy to understand why the reporter fell in love.
The menu reads like a puzzle or a riddle. What does “Not-your-average egg with seasonal vegetables mean?” I ask the waitress. The explanation is confusing so I decide this is what I will start or may be I should try “Falafel” fake truffles” with edible earth? What can edible earth be? I order it anyway. As I explore the main dishes some jump out of the page – Skate with Serrano ham garlic-lemon emulsion and squid reduction and the unusual Duck breast, orange-infused endive, white bean cream or the barely cooked tuna steak? I choose the duck.
Very soon a lovely oblong white plate is set before my eyes. This is an amuse-guele. The waiter explains “His signature dish” In front of me is a small round glass with brown foam and something round next to it.” This is an emulsion of Sangria with diced apples and jelly passion fruit balls. Next to it is a clam on a bed of braised leeks and…”) I wasn’t listening. A first mouth full of the sweet light sangria with passion fruit was startling. It is ambrosia – light, aromatic, and deliciously refreshing. The clam is magnificent “Why only one?” I could have eaten a dozen!
Next is Not-your average egg. On a large white plate among a medley of tiny braised vegetables is what looks like a hard-boiled egg. But this egg trembles and, as we cut it in two, a yolk oozes out and is mixed with the spicy vegetables. Surprise! The white is not egg white, but a puree of cauliflower! So scrumptious. So unusual a transformation. I lapped it up!
Next came the fake truffles. Small black bean balls set on top of edible earth. The edible earth is a geological marvel, made up of layer upon layers of different color vegetable puree. The ball are crunchy and taste like truffles or was it my imagination which, like Chef Nunez, is playing tricks on my taste buds.
The duck dish looked like towers set on a bed of creamed white beans surrounded with slivers of endive. The duck was tender, cooked to perfection. The infused orange endive marries well with the rich flavored duck breast.
The skate, like the duck, was an architecture transformation. How do you make towers out of skate? However the dish was made, it was so wonderful and beautiful that the only thing one thought was “I could eat like this every night!”
Dessert was like the rest of the meal: a total surprise. Small mounds of beets surrounded with powered nuts on a bed of very spicy, hot jelly. The sweetness of the beets was counter balanced by the spicy jelly.
By then I had drunk enough excellent Spanish wine selected by the gifted sommelier, Nacho Monclus, that I was going to retire to dream of Spain and the handsome Spanish chef.
(Image of Jesus Nuñez from ABC News)