Entries in Jesús Núñez (3)




Note: Jesús Núñez has left Barraca and its sister restaurant, Melibea. Alex Ureña has replaced him.


I was a big fan of Gastroarte, chef Jesús Núñez’s avant-garde Spanish restaurant near Lincoln Center. But his work there was too edgy for the neighborhood, and critics found his cooking uneven. Earlier this month, Núñez re-surfaced at Barraca, where he doesn’t challenge diners as much—and if he did, would probably find a more receptive audience.

It’s your typical attractive downtown space, with dark wood tables, bright blue seats, wood pillars, timber beams, and exposed brick. Miraculously, on a Friday evening it was not as loud as such places usually are, even though the 80-seat dining room was nearly full.

The menu fits on one sheet of paper, featuring a dozen tapas ($6–12), a similar number of salads and vegetable dishes ($6–12), cheeses and charcuterie ($12–32), six varieties of paella ($19–27), just a few entrées ($23–30), and four desserts ($7–9).

The paellas take about 25 minutes, and in the meantime the server suggested six tapas to share. I’d say that’s on the high side, unless you’re quite hungry; we ordered four.


The tapas are the chef’s best work: the Croquetas ($9; above left; top); Esparragos (White Asparagus) with anchovies and vegetable vinaigrette ($7; above left; bottom); Albondigas, or meatballs, in a vegetable sauce ($10; above middle); and a spicy Setas Alajillo, a stew of sautéed mushrooms in a garlic sauce with pork sausage ($10; above right).

Paellas are served for a minimum of two people, but the kitchen will prepare different varieties of paella in a large skillet with a cast-iron divider between the two halves. (I’ve seen some photos with the skillet divided in three.)

We tried the Paella Roja de Carabineros (several varieties of shrimp and prawns in a shrimp stock) and the Paella de Tierra (chicken, rabbit, pork belly, pork ribs, string beans and fava beans), $27 and $23 respectively. We found both too salty and greasy, and the rice at the bottom lacked the right crusty crunch. In the Paella de Tierra, the various meats were mostly indistinguishable, aside from the pork belly, which stood out (as it always does).

The Coca de Chocolate ($9; above) was one of the more unusual desserts we’ve had in a while, a crisped tortilla covered in chocolate, topped with berries and cream. We’d certainly order this again.

The wine list is not extensive at this point, but we did well with a 2006 Rioja Riserva for $46. Service was fine, and if only the chef could get the paellas in order, this place would be just about perfect. Still, there is much to enjoy here, and I suspect it will only get better.

Barraca (81 Greenwich Avenue at Bank Street, West Village)

Food: Inventive tapas and paellas, mostly well prepared (especially the former)
Service: Casual and just fine for what it is
Ambiance: Attractive garden-variety West Village casual




Note: Gastroarte “closed for renovations” in September 2012. The chef, Jesús Núñez, had already left the restaurant to open a similar place in the West Village called Barraca. The space, still under the same owners, and still Spanish, is now called Andanada 141.


I wrote last week about the Spanish moment we’re in: Gastroarte, Salinas, Tertulia, and the extravagant Romera, all open within the last year, and all with ambitious—or in Romera’s case, stratospheric—intentions.

They probably won’t all succeed, but it’s progress in a town that has too many Italian and New Brooklyn restaurants, and not enough of practically everything else.

Gastroarte opened in January 2011 as Graffit, named for the graffiti-clad walls and the chef Jesús Núñez’s artful platings. But a google search on Graffit most often returned another Manhattan restaurant, chef Jehangir Mehta’s Graffiti.

Mehta sued for copyright infringement and Núñez relented, renaming his restaurant Gastroarte. Good move. Even if the suit was baseless (as it almost certainly was), it was dumb to have two such similar names in one city, and Mehta got there first.

It took some chutzpah to put such a restaurant on the Upper West Side, near Lincoln Center, a neighborhood not known for rewarding culinary risk-takers. Of course, the city’s restaurant critics aren’t known for that either. Sam Sifton, Adam Platt, and Steve Cuozzo all gave it just one star apiece.

Those ratings aren’t irksome in themselves: I gave it 1½ stars early on, and frankly, I am not sure if I would have rounded up or down, had I been using a system without half-stars. What is irksome is the lack of respect for the chef’s art and the recognition of its potential, even if its execution, at first, was not consistently enjoyable.

Menu prices have risen: appetizers are now $14–21 (vs. $10–18 in January), entrées $29–32 (vs. $23–27). That’s a fairly substantial increase of around $8–10 per person (before dessert), in under a year. As before, a tapas menu is served only at the bar and at the front walk-in tables—an inexplicable blunder.

I assume Gastroarte is getting the customers to justify those higher prices. Fortunately, it deserves them. Nine months later, Gastroarte is a much more polished restaurant. The service is more reliable, plates arrive at the right temperature, and the balance of flavors seems more sure-handed.

The vegetable stew under “Not-your-average egg” ($17; above left) changes with the season (compare it to the photo last time I had it). This version is less colorful than before, but it remains a triumph. As it was before, the centerpiece is an egg yolk enclosed somehow, miraculously, inside of a cauliflower sphere. It rests on turnip prepared two ways, and underneath that, yogurt and Serrano ham.

Lamb cheeks ($30; above left) were in a stew of lentils, spiced cheese, and asparagus, with a slice of brioche. A cuboid of black rice ($29; above right) was topped with calamari, sobrasada, and snow peas, with a streaks of Idiazábal cheese and red tobiko as garnishes.

Núñez doesn’t splurge on ingredients, but the assembly of these dishes is impressive, and so are the flavors, which blend beautifully. Both of the central proteins, the lamb cheeks and the calamari, were just right.

The difference from January is that the plates are no longer just entrants in an art exhibit: they’re a pleasure to eat, as well. That’s based on a small sample of the menu (plus amuses bouches and petits fours), but Gastroarte today seems far more promising than Graffit did at the beginning of the year.

Early on a Friday evening, before the opera, the dining room was not quite full. I have no idea if the traffic dies, or picks up, after curtain time; however, the restaurant has managed to impose a rather substantial price increase, without any of the usual signs of desperation, so I assume it is not doing badly.

In the competitive Lincoln Center dining market, it’s difficult to remain relevant (just ask Picholine, now an OpenTable 1,000-point fixture), but perhaps Graffit is on its way to becoming essential.

Gastroarte (141 W. 69th St. between Broadway & Columbus Ave., Upper West Side)

Food: **
Service: **
Ambiance: **
Overall: **


Gastroarte née Graffit

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)

Food: *½
Service: *½
Ambiance: *½
Overall: *½