Graffiti artist turned chef epitomizes the essence of Gastroarte. Here, Chef Nunez, recent contestant on Iron Chef America against Michael Simon (he lost by 1 point) shows off his culinary skills and knowledge of artistic beauty. Not only are the plates presented works of art, but the taste and unique components come together to produce high end, delectable dishes.
I had seen Gastroarte pop up in the shape of a mustache on my ScoutMob* app for a while now, not sure what this restaurant around the corner was. After his Iron Chef experience, I realized that this place was something that needed to be tried.
My sister and I met on 69th for dinner at 9:30pm and were seated immediately with our reservation. The walls were decorated simply, but still allowed for graffiti artwork, with the Spanish theme in mind, covering the brick, scratched up walls. The funky table settings further elevated this high end scrap metal, grunge look.
In any Spanish restaurant, I think it a sin not to order a glass of sangria. Spanish tapas were made to be enjoyed with a the best wine cocktail. Seeing all the tables around us enjoying full glasses, we knew that this place would serve a great version of my favorite drink.
This variation was almost purple in color, which tends to mean, by my standards, that the sweetness level is on par before even having a sip. Cinnamon flavor was tasted sip by sip, as small pieces of apple got stuck in my straw. Delicious. And the pitcher was not skimpy by any means, it lasted the full meal.
We glanced over the menu, over whelmed by the interesting dishes and unique combinations. I have a love for eggplant, and the best dish I have had was in Sevilla, Spain. In a small whole in the wall restaurant, my favorite vegetable was paired with honey, a combination I have never been able to quite replicate or find elsewhere. When I saw this dish listed on the menu, along with the knowledge that the chef calls Spain his home, I knew this could be great.
We ordered the eggplant and Corn Soup with Sea Urchin to start. The waitress came back and told us the corn soup had been prepared with ham for restaurant week, causing us to scratch this item from our order. We glanced over the menu, trying to decide what else to eat.
The eggplant arrived before we could determine the rest of the meal. The presentation alone put this restaurant on a whole different playing field. This wasn’t just food; this was art.
I cut a small piece of the gelée trying to pin point the flavor. It reminded me of something, but it didn’t click. Finally, I added it to the eggplant, it all made sense. The sweet honey melted onto the baked eggplant, revealing its true essence. Delicious and varied sauces coated the plate, creating a changing flavor profile. Mustard never tasted so good and unique. The varied textures played together, making the dish multi dimensional without being an overkill. It seemed so simple, but so complex. The perfect balance of flavor and wit. It wasn’t Sevilla, but it was darn good eggplant.
We then ordered the Study of Tomato, Not Your Average “Egg” and Shrimp with Garlic Sauce. With the exception of the shrimp, the names were just as playful as the dishes.
The tomato dish came out first. Once again, the presentation stole the show. In tomato powder they spelled out the ingredient that this dish was really about. It was a love story.
Holy Tomato! For those claiming to dislike this delectable vegetable (or fruit, I know it’s controversial), try one of these preparations and you are sure to be a convert. I started with the middle pile, full of cherry tomatoes and gelee, being sure to dip each into the tomato powder. I always find it ironic to add the same flavor, in a different preparation on top (i.e. graham cracker fro-yo with graham cracker crumbles). This reminded me why different preparations combined together is not ironic, but rather appropriately whimsical.
I then cut into the monster in the middle, the balsamic tomato. It gave the essential bite of acidity I had been looking for in the dish. I ended this course with the fried green tomato and light tomato aioli underneath. A southern staple, prepared by a Spaniard, certainly gave BBQ joints a run for their money. This was the real deal. Lightly breaded and fried to a golden brown color without any of the fatty, grease. It was just right. I had a little bit of the tofu with tomato powder, Leigh’s favorite. She was kind enough to share, allowing me to taste the super light tofu packed with flavor from the dark red powder coating the exterior.
Next came the shrimp and garlic. In another restaurant we would be loving the presentation, but here this was the least exciting. However, the flavors once again were spot on.
The shrimp melted in your mouth, having absorbed all the garlic and pepper flavors. I can only imagine the preparation in the kitchen to infuse such flavor into the little, but well prepared shrimp. Even after leaving the kitchen, the shrimp sat in a flavorful olive oil broth, continuing to soak up the flavors. The red peppers were especially sweet, complimenting the shrimp in an unexpected way. The portion size was ideal with five pieces, perfect for sharing.
Our final and favorite dish was the Not Your Average “Egg.” I had seen a variation of this dish on Iron Chef and was fascinated, along with the judges and Iron Chef Simon. I had to try. This was not a dish I could find anywhere else.
The exquisite colors stand out when the waitress places the gorgeous dish in front of you. Then the sweet aroma seeps into your lungs, making you want to grab the spoon and dig right in. We paused a moment to try and capture and take in everything that was in front of us.
I warn you “not to be deceived by appearances, for beauty is found within.”** Within the “egg” that is. The perfectly hard boiled “egg” tricks all those who order. Cutting the through the “egg” with your knife, the yolk runs into the broccoli puree creating a richer element to the dish. But the white part of the “egg” happens to not be an egg at all. Instead, a sunchoke puree is piped into an egg shell around the yolk to create the illusion of an egg. Had I not watched Iron Chef, I would have been deceived time and time again.
The flavor of the sunchoke is salty, but blends with the richness of the dish. Thinking back, I don’t even know if salt and pepper were available on the table. The seasoning for all the dishes were all spot on. The different broccoli types worked well together. The baked broccoli created my favorite element of crunch and char, giving a slight acidic flavor to the dish. The puree was creamy and melted in your mouth. The salchichon, a cured meat, gave that essential salty meat flavor to elevate all of the broccoli richness and sunchoke. Everything about this dish screamed creativity and culinary madness.
As my sister and I sat back and reminisced the meal, while sipping on our sangria, we kept thinking about the greatness of each dish. The after math of this meal seems more powerful then the meal itself. During each tasting, I think our minds were drawn to the visual and flavor. But afterwards, the flavors still lingered, making us drool and dream for more. This lead to the inevitable decision for dessert.
We decided on the Banana, Chocolate, Peanut Butter with Plantains.
If Elivs walked into Gastroarte, this dessert would arrive faster then the meal. The typical combination of chocolate, banana and peanut butter transformed into a creamy mousse. The decadent flavors allowed for each ingredient to truly shine. What really set this dish apart were the spicy peanuts and the crispy plantains. I used the plantains as a chip, allowing for all of the flavors to come together on one compact vehicle. Messiness is not only allowed, but encouraged when dining with my sister. Our sticky fingers and smiling faces made it clear that this was a dessert to remember.
The combination of gastric science, delicious flavors and gorgeous presentation made this meal one for the books. The location around the corner allows for this to be a spot where I will frequent over the years. Plus the 30% discount from Savored*** (I ended up using this app instead of Scoutmob*) made the meal even more memorable. I will definitely be back, Nikon in hand to try and really capture the beauty of the meal, since my stomach still remembers it as vividly as a picture.
Gastroarte – 141 West 69th Street – New York, NY
*ScoutMob is a app for Manhattan, showing discounts for places throughout the city without the need to purchase in advance.
**Yes, I did just reference the opening of Beauty and the Beast. And yes, that is my favorite movie.
***Savored is an app for Manhattan finding restaurants with open reservations and offering a discount at that location for booking.
Location: Upper West Side, NY
Type: New American
Perfect For: Adventurous Eating, Small Plates
Reservations: Available but Not Necessary (OpenTable)
Favorite Dishes: Sunchoke Puree, Study of the Tomato, Eggplant with Honey Gelee, Banana Chocolate Plantain Dessert