Entries in Noel Cruz (4)


The Payoff: Elettaria

Today, as expected, Frank Bruni awards one star to Elettaria, finding the performance too inconsistent, the ambiance too scatter-brained:

The ostensibly individual tables bisecting the dining room are essentially one way-too-long communal table, which makes for odd traffic patterns.

And why is this central and most crucial region of the restaurant so cramped when there’s so much elbowroom and extra space around the bar up front? Elettaria is lovely but awkward, and its awkwardness undercuts Mr. Nawab’s impressively creative cooking.

But then his cooking also undercuts itself, some dishes mirroring the setting: seductive in the abstract, less so in actuality. There’s too broad a gap between the best of them, which are excellent, and the rest. I had only one meal that wholly delighted me, while the others were a mix of exciting, intriguing and frustrating moments.

We and Eater both win $2 on our hypothetical one-dollar bets.

              Eater          NYJ
Bankroll $86.50   $106.67
Gain/Loss +2.00   +2.00
Total $88.50   $108.67
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Won–Lost 40–18   42–16

Rolling the Dice: Elettaria

Every week, we take our turn with Lady Luck on the BruniBetting odds as posted by Eater. Just for kicks, we track Eater’s bet too, and see who is better at guessing what the unpredictable Bruni will do. We track our sins with an imaginary $1 bet every week.

The Line: Tomorrow, Frank Bruni takes a belated look at Elettaria, Akhtar Nawab’s Indian–American fusion restaurant in Greenwich Village. The Eater oddsmakers have set the action as follows (√√ denotes the Eater bet):

Zero Stars: 5-1
One Star: 2-1 √√
Two Stars: 3-1
Three Stars: 8-1
Four Stars: 1,000-1

The Skinny: As usual, there are only two possible outcomes here: one star or two. The closeness of the odds (2–1 and 3–1 respectively) shows that this is basically a coin toss. Reviews have been all over the map, ranging from Platt’s one-star slap to RG’s three-star rave. Will the real Elettaria please stand up?

The X-factor is the rather long time it took Bruni to get around to this review: it has been more than six weeks since most of the other critics filed, including this blog, which awarded two stars. We can only assume that Bruni saw potential, and wanted to give Elettaria time to resolve the early kinks. Bruni doesn’t usually give restaurants that chance, so you’ve got to figure that he really wanted to like this place.

We are torn, but our sense is that the cramped ambiance, abbreviated menu and chronic inconsistency will rate mentions in this review.

The Bet: We are betting, with some reluctance, that Frank Bruni will award one star to Elettaria.



Akhtar Nawab (center) runs a tight ship at Elettaria

Note: Elettaria closed in August 2009, after the owners could not negotiate a lease extension.


Akhtar Nawab first came to prominence at Tom Colicchio’s Craftbar. He left in 2006 to go solo, but things didn’t quite go as planned. He was the originally announced chef at Allen & Delancey, but when the restaurant finally opened, Neil Ferguson was at the helm. Then he signed on at The E.U., a star-crossed restaurant if ever there was one.

elettaria_outside.jpgAt Elettaria, Nawab is finally in control of his own destiny, along with partner Noel Cruz (Dani). Let’s hope that it’s a hit. Based on our meal there last night, it certainly deserves to be.

The name is the Latin word for cardamom, a spice often used in Indian cuisine. There are Indian accents all over the menu at Elettaria, but there are accents from a lot of places. Nawab is from Kentucky, and the cooking here could as well be called Modern American.

elettaria_inside2.jpgThe interior design is from the same folks that did Allen & Delancey. You can see the resemblance, but their work is less successful here. For A&D’s charm, they’ve substituted a laundry list of clichés.

The bar takes up too much space. Dining tables are crammed too closely together. There’s a long row of them along the restaurant’s spine, and they’re just inches apart. We considered ourselves lucky to be there early, before the place filled up. There isn’t much space to manoever.

There’s a wide-open kitchen at the back of the restaurant. Nawab has it running smoothly. It’s a pleasure to watch. The space, most recently a men’s clothing store, was once a nightclub, and the kitchen is “on the very same spot where Jimi Hendrix reputedly plucked his guitar.”

elettaria01a.jpg elettaria01b.jpg
Bread service (left); White asparagus with foie gras (left)

Our dinner at Elettaria was one of those rare restaurant meals that actually improved as it went along. The bread service consisted of two slices of naan. For the appetizer course, we were both attracted to one of the recited specials: a serving of white asparagus with shaved foie gras.

Pork, rice, quail egg

The asparagus, served chilled, had been over-cooked. The foie gras lacked the flavor punch it should have, and the few croutons offered were slightly soggy. At $20, this appetizer needed to be better.

The kitchen sent out a comped mid-course. It wasn’t on the printed menu, so I am guessing this is an item the chef is still tinkering with. He need tinker no longer. The highlights were two contrasting cuts of pork and a fried quail egg, resting in a slurry of rice. Nawab risks accusations of being derivative, with pork and fried eggs showing up on menus all over town, but this dish was much more of a hit than our original appetizer.

[Update: In his rave review for The Sun, Paul Adams described “an off-the-menu starter of lúgao ($12), Filipino rice porridge flavored with a succulent panoply of pig parts.” I am pretty sure that’s the mid-course item described above.]

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Red Snapper (left); Striped Bass (right)

We both chose fish for the main course: red snapper ($28) for me, striped bass ($22) for my girlfriend. The kitchen did well by both fish, which were tender, flavorful, and well complemented by the accompanying vegetables and cous cous. A bed of small clams that came with the red snapper seemed more decorative than anything else.

The wine list here is downright revelatory, with many great bottles under $50, along with an impressive list of cocktails, liqueurs, apéritifs, and so forth. A 2004 Cotes de Provence from Chateau de Roquefort was only $37.

Although our appetizer misfired, the cooking here is ambitious. Over time, we suspect that Akhtar Nawab will have many more successes than failures. The reasonable prices make the restaurant especially compelling. Elettaria is well worth a return visit.

Elettaria (33 W. 8th Street at MacDougal Street, Greenwich Village)

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



Note: Dani closed as of January 1, 2008. It’s tough to make it in Hudson Square.


If a restaurant is good enough, there’s practically no such thing as a bad neighborhood in New York. Put differently, there’s no neighborhood that diners won’t trek to—for the right reasons.

But some neighborhoods definitely have their challenges, including Hudson Square. Starting with the fact that many New Yorkers haven’t even heard of Hudson Square. Roughly, it’s the rectangular patch bounded by Canal Street, Houston Street, Sixth Avenue, and the Hudson River. Some sources quote slightly different borders. Others call it by different names, such as West SoHo, South Village, or best of all, HoHo (it’s between Houston and the Holland Tunnel).

There’s not much to draw pedestrians to Hudson Square. The retail trade is practically nonexistent. Many of the buildings are stubby monoliths, occupying entire square blocks. They aren’t a welcoming sight. The neighborhood has long ago shed its warehousing and manufacturing image, embracing the new economy and condo loft conversions. But it has none of the chic of TriBeCa to the south, SoHo to the east, or the Village to the north.

Enter Dani, a Sicilian–Italian trattoria at the intersection of Hudson and Charlton Streets in Hudson Square. The opening was well publicized, and the restaurant drew a relatively enthusiastic one-star review from Frank Bruni. But I gather Dani still isn’t drawing the traffic it needs, because recently they invited me to dine as their guests.

The appetizers at Dani are in two groups: Per La Tavola ($7–19), mostly crudo selections arranged for sharing; and standard antipasti ($8–13). Cured meats ($14; above left) were top-notch, although what really had us hooked was the house made ricotta. From the antipasto list, grilled octopus ($13; above right) with oregano, parsley potatoes and sherry vinegar made a terrific noshing snack to start with.

There’s a recurring series of daily specials, of which the kitchen sent out three for us to sample:

  • Carbonara con Prosciuto e Uovo di Anitra ($21; Mondays; above left). Spaghettini with house made duck prosciutto, duck egg, black pepper, pecorino. This rich dish was the hit of the evening.
  • Porchetta di Coniglio ($27; Thursdays; above center). Whole roasted rabbit stuffed with rabbit and pork sausage. Also an extremely impressive dish.
  • Polpettone di Pesce Spada ($20; Fridays; above right). Swordfish meatballs, marinara, neopolitan rigatoni. We found the swordfish meatballs a wonderfully clever idea. The dish packed a lot of heat, and I thought the rigatoni were too large.

There’s a standard list of pastas ($17–19), none of which we tried. The secondi include half-a-dozen composed entrées ($23–27), and several “simply grilled” selections ($20–32), which come with a choice of side dish.

Seared Sea Scallops and Braised Pork Belly ($27; above left) were a combination I don’t recall encountering anywhere else, but I couldn’t resist two of my favorites on the same plate. They came with a garnish of cauliflower, capers, pine nuts, and raisins. I particularly loved the scallops, which were perfectly browned on the outside, sweet and moist on the inside.

Alas, Grilled Sausage ($20; above right) was a dud, suffering either from over-cooking or not enough moisture.

We weren’t especially wowed by any of the desserts (all $6). A Frangipane Tart (above left) didn’t yield easily enough to the fork. Mint Panna Cotta (above center) didn’t generate much excitement. House Made Ricotta Cheesecake (above right) didn’t have the creamy consistency of the better cheesecakes.

The décor at Dani is post-industrial chic. The brick walls and hardwood floors reflect plenty of sound. Service was solid, though it must be noted the staff knew they were being reviewed.

I was delighted to see a wine list with reasonable choices below $40. We chose a Colvecchio, Toscana 2000 Syrah from Castello Banfi ($75), one of several growers that Dani features. We thought it flattered the food extremely well.

My girlfriend and I enjoyed most of what we tasted at Dani. The restaurant is operating well above the level of a neighborhood trattoria (a genre of which New York has more than enough entrants). There were a couple of soft spots, but enough highlights to make it well worth a visit to an unfamiliar neighborhood.

Dani (333 Hudson Street at Charlton Streeet, Hudson Square)

Ambiance: *½
Overall: *½