The pan-Latin American restaurant Nuela opened last month in the Flatiron District, after an agonizing two-year wait. Douglas Rodriguez, the original chef (and Top Chef Masters alum) withdrew, leaving his one-time assistant, Adam Schop, in charge.
Wear your sunglasses and bring your earplugs. The all-red décor will assault your eyes, while the blasting sound track will bludgeon your ears. It is not a pleasant place to eat. The owners took over the huge space that had been Sapa, but I don’t remember feeling like I was in an airplane hangar, as I did here.
The menu offers sixty items in a dozen categories. There are so many ceviches that a separate menu must be printed to accommodate them. One’s eye is naturally drawn to the entrées for two: ribeye ($90), chicken ($48), duck ($60), or whole fish ($58). Suckling pig is served by the quarter ($65), half ($130), or whole ($250). Solo entrées are $25–32, ceviches $10–22, small plates, soups and salads $3–12.
The bread service (left) was wonderful: cheese bread and cornmeal, with honey-doused mascarpone for dipping. Matters turned quickly south when the appetizers arrived.
Oxtail Empanadas ($9; above left) had a strangely flat taste. Mixto Ceviche ($14; above right) had such a muddy taste, and was swimming in so much sauce, that I couldn’t even make out the octopus, shrimp, and crabmeat it allegedly contained.
The quarter suckling pig ($65; above) was just fine, but the degree of difficulty was low. The pig was served as a random pile of oddly-shaped pieces. Nothing much was done with it, except for baking the creature in its own fat and hacking the carcass apart. (There was an unidentified tangy dipping sauce, along with scallion pancakes and a superfluous helping of rice.) It came on a wooden board that didn’t quite fit on the small table, very nearly pushing our plates off the edge.
The wine list was expensive. The dull $56 Tempranillo we had came to the table warm. After pouring two half-glasses, the server volunteered to chill it. Twenty minutes later, it came back hardly changed.
You can probably cobble together a good meal here: with 60 items on offer, some of them have to be good. We aren’t at all interested in trying any more of them. We hated our appetizers, and there are plenty of places in town that serve a great suckling pig in a much nicer space.
Nuela (42 W. 24th Street between Fifth & Sixth Avenues, Flatiron District)
Ambiance: A noisy red airplane hangar