Last month, CT continued our annual tradition of visiting The House of Walker at The Altman Building. Every year, Johnnie Walker offers a free tasting of some of their whiskeys along with a short presentation on the history of the company. Although, it was pretty much unchanged from last year, how often do you get free drinks in NYC? Our session was over right around 8, so we made plans for dinner nearby.
Last year, we went to the restaurant that shall not be named and had a less than pleasant experience. Since we visited that restaurant with a deal bought from Bloomspot, they graciously gave us a $20 credit towards a future deal to make up for the frustration we went through. As such, it took a while for an interesting deal to come along and then they offered $25 for $50 worth of food at the relatively new Nuela. We heard varying opinions of this South American restaurant, but for $5 out of pocket for a $50 gift card was worth the risk. The restaurant also happened to be nearby from where the scotch tasting was, so it worked out perfectly.
The restaurant was in quite a large space in Chelsea with a lot of vibrant colors and some cool pieces of art to reflect its South American flair. Although it was the prime dinner hour, the restaurant didn’t seem that busy eventhough most of the tables were filled. I guess the extremely high ceilings were effective at muffling the sounds.
After being seated, it took a while for our server to come by, which worried us about how the rest of the meal would proceed. Fortunately, this was not the case and she upped her game during the rest of the time we were there. We both looked at the menu previously and I thought it might be best to order a couple appetizers and their signature ceviches. Their entrees did not look that interesting especially when most of them leaned towards being $30. Our waitress really impressed the both of us when she suggested we have the lighter and more delicate ceviches first and then the heavier more aggressive appetizers.
Instead of traditional bread service, we were given some pão de queijo and fresh butter with honey. The only time I ever had this type of bread before was at one of our famous FBM potlucks. Goats took a shot at making it, but wasn’t pleased at the outcome. These were super dense and not that cheesy. I still ate a whole one to help soak up some of that scotch I had earlier. The butter was nice and creamy with the honey adding just the right amount of sweetness.
CT had a cocktail with dinner while I had a glass of wine. We both decided it was most prudent to do this since we drank a fair amount before dinner and the bottles of wine listed seemed overpriced. She chose the Espomoso Sour($14)- Strawberry-infused Pisco Porton, fresh citrus juice, lemon-basil foam & Angostura bitters. She has been on a bit of a pisco kick lately and this drink helped satisfy that. I had a sip and it was packed full of strawberry.
Our first ceviche was the tuna ($15) with charred pineapple, miso, and summer radishes. As you can see the nicely sized chunks of tuna spoke for themselves with their rich pink color. The pineapple was super sweet from being grilled which played perfectly against the tang of the miso and citrus. The radish brought some good contrasting texture with its crunchy freshness. Although it was a lot more expensive than the ceviche we got at the Panama Fish Market, it was well worth the splurge.
The other ceviche we got was the bass tiradito($14) with aji amarillo leche de tigre and grilled watermelon. This was also very good and very different from the tuna. The slender pieces of bass were quite mild unlike the accompanying tangy & spicy sauce. I have since learned from the powers of the internet that aji amarillo is a yellow Peruvian hot pepper and leche de tigre refers to the lime juice marinade used for ceviches. The grilled watermelon was also very good with the caramelized sugars accentuated by a sprinkling of sea salt.
Next up were our appetizers.
There was a choice of two kinds of Anticuchos, or Peruvian grilled skewers. We chose the beef lomo($12) over the shrimp al a brasa($14). The skewers came with roasted corn and potato. This was the least successful of the dishes we ordered mainly due to the fact that it was two skewers with two pieces of steak each. On top of that, the steak wasn’t particularly good. The corn and potatoes were good as we are still in the corn season.
Next was Crispy Pork Shoulder ($13) with tamal, aji panca, and salsa criolla. With a description like that, it was a must order for us. Unfortunately there were only four or so small chunks of delicious crispy pork on top of the large tamale. Salsa criolla is an onion based salsa instead of the more traditional tomato. I enjoyed the red onions a lot, which was odd considering I really don’t like onions. The marinade used made the onions quite mild while retaining their crispiness. It was the perfect palate cleanser for the rich pork and masa. Too bad there wasn’t more pork in this dish.
Our last “appetizer” was the Charred Octopus and Squid Causa ($14) with aji amarillo potato puree, olives and avocado. Once again, I saw octopus on the menu and had to have it. This was an interesting dish, but like the others it could have used more of the proteins. Both the octopus and squid were cooked nicely, I just wish there was more of it. The potato puree was interesting in that at first I thought it was more masa until CT reminded me it wasn’t. It was creamy yet firm with a tad too much salt. If I ever return, I’ll try the octopus ceviche.
For good measure we also ordered a side of unphotogenic black beans with lingucia sausage ($7). The beans were quite al dente, but not too hard. They also seemed to get saltier and saltier as we ate them, especially with the salty potatoes from the octopus dish. I still enjoyed the beans and am glad we got them.
All in all, Nuela was a good choice for a South American-centric dinner. The ceviches were excellent. I am not sure how quickly I would return without a gift card as everything was pretty pricey. Service was excellent. Thanks again to Bloomspot for trying to make up for the disappointing dinner we had last year.