Note: Gastroarte was called Graffit when this review was written. As noted below, the name was often mistaken for that of an unrelated restaurant, Graffiti. After the latter sued, Graffit changed its name to Gastroarte. For a more recent review, click here.
There isn’t exactly a glut of avant-garde Spanish cuisine in New York. One has to applaud chef Jesús Núñez’s gumption, if nothing else, in putting such a place in one of the city’s most conservative dining neighborhoods, the Upper West Side.
The chef was formerly a graffiti artist, so he chose the name Graffit—an unfortunate error, as a web search confuses it with the better known East Village restaurant, Graffiti. (On a google search for “graffit restaurant new york,” 7 of the first 10 hits, including the first four, were for Graffiti, not Graffit.) The reference isn’t that important anyway: the wall art at Graffit was created with spray paint, but not in a way that resembles the graffiti New Yorkers are familiar with.
There are fumbles in the menu design, as well. Diners seated in the bar area receive a tapas list ($6–14), while those in the dining room get a separate menu with traditional appetizers ($10–18) and entrées ($23–27). The distinction between bar and table dining is blurry these days; offering different menus to two classes of guests just creates confusion.
We were seated in the dining room, and therefore didn’t receive the tapas menu. A Mouthfuls poster who did, said that the tapas are so amply portioned that two of them would be a sufficient snack for four people, which somewhat contradicts the whole point of tapas.
In the dining room, the appetizers are generously portioned, too. We ordered five of them to share: we went home stuffed, and we didn’t even finish them.
Although we liked all but one of our appetizers, they tended to cloy. Normally, appetizers are sized for one person. Most of these dishes were just too heavy or too monotonic for that: you wouldn’t want to finish them.
However, you get plenty for your money: the food bill for two was just $62, and that included a dual amuse bouche (above right) and petits fours (bottom right) at the end.
“Not Your Average Egg” ($13; above left) is a seasonal vegetable stew. This was one of our favorites, although it ought to have been a shade warmer. The “Egg” in the middle is actually cauliflower molded around a runny egg yolk.
Carrot “Cake” ($11.50; above right) is a savory carrot dish with cheese and asparagus. This was one of those dishes that started out well, but was too overwhelming for even two people to finish.
Oxtail Ravioli ($13.50; above left) with apple and sunchoke cream sounded promising, but it came to the table lukewarm. Fried Squid Spheres ($12; above right) with roasted pepper, lemon, and saffron mayonaise are a wonderful idea, but it’s another dish that I was glad to be sharing. Two spheres per person was enough, and the dish had five.
Beef Tongue ($12; above left) was an ample enough portion to be an entrée, with two hefty pieces of tongue—deep fried, I believe. It’s another good dish that I wouldn’t have wanted to finish alone.
The restaurant occupies the lower level of an Upper West Side townhouse. The layout resembles a railroad apartment, with four thematically distinct spaces: communal tables up front for walk-ins, a bar, a dining room, and a rear atrium with skylights that can be opened in good weather. With exposed brick walls and no tablecloths or curtains to absorb sound, the space gets a bit noisy when full.
Despite some errors of concepion and execution, there is obvious potential in this cuisine. The menu is not static, as there were several announced specials (including the tongue dish). With some refinement, Graffit could make the leap to compelling from merely promising. Located just three blocks north of Lincoln Center, it’s a welcome addition to the pre-concert dining scene. The only question is whether this traditionally conservative neighborhood will embrace it.
Graffit (141 W. 69th St. between Broadway and Columbus Ave., Upper West Side)