*THIS RESTAURANT HAS CLOSED*
What was once a popular local hangout for inexpensive home-style food and strong drinks, Dante Benedetti's New Pisa, has now morphed into the city-chic ~NUA RESTAURANT AND WINE BAR~. I know, before you start groaning about yet another wine bar opening up, I actually think the "and Wine Bar" emblazoned on the playful orange awning is a bit of a misnomer. It's really a restaurant, with room for only nine wine imbibers at the compact bar (and based on what I've seen, the bar stools and bar height are not playing nice together). If you just want to hang out and sample some of the swell swills on the list, the petite bar is the only place where you can park it. If you're pinning your hopes on sitting your tookus at one of the tables, then you better plan on tucking into some dinner.
Which is actually a good idea, because executive chef Anna Bautista's rustic menu has plenty to choose from; well, unless you are a vegetarian--you might need to do a few subs, because there was only a soup, salad, and pasta the night I was there. Actually, the three sides were vegetarian too, so you'll be just fine.
Bautista was formerly at the Public and Jardinière--you can see the intersection of Mediterranean simplicity and Frenchie technique in her dishes. I personally think the length of the menu is a touch ambitious considering the size of the kitchen (take a peek in the back) and the fact there are only 35 seats in the dining room, but hey, it's their menu and they can rock it any way they want to!
Dishes globetrot to Spain, like tender veal and pork albondigas ($8) or brandade-stuffed Piquillo peppers ($9), France (elements like duck confit, beurre blanc, and gratin are in the hizzy), and Italy says "ciao!" with some pasta dishes and hello there, guanciale. I also witnessed a couple daytrips to Morocco, with ingredients like harissa and couscous making a few appearances.
My partner in crime (because what we were about to eat was downright criminal) and I started with the chicken liver mousse and country pate ($11) with crostini. After your knife cuts into the ramekin of pate and reveals its ruby-red interior, get ready for a mouthful of pure glorious gourmet fat. Yes, it's delicious, and yup, there's a f*ckload of butter in there. The pistachio-studded country pate struck me as a little flat, but I really dug the perky kumquat and quince mostarda that came along for the ride.
Our faves were the "deconstructed" crispy sardines escabeche ($10), two butterflied sardines served atop a tangy scattering of blue lake beans, carrot, cauliflower, shallots, and currants that all had a nice sweet pickling; and the two coils of juicy house-made Merguez sausage ($13) served on skewers, made with a savory combo of lamb shoulder, pork back fat, roasted bell pepper, Spanish paprika, and chili flakes. The side salad of cucumber, mint, fennel, and parsley made a spot-on counterpoint. Delish.
Call me an appetizer addict, but the two mains we tried didn't quite hold my attention like the apps. It was kind of like being on a date with someone new, and you think they're kinda hot and the date is going pretty well until your date randomly mentions they just ended their third marriage (and they are 32) or hands you an informative pamphlet entitled "Dating Someone with Herpes."
Okay, the drop-off in interest wasn't that severe, but my pal's rack of lamb ($25) had a few too many flavors going on from the seasonings on the meat and the drizzling of salmoriglio sauce, a pungent sauce of oregano, garlic, lemon, and olive oil that I tend to prefer on fish. I asked chef Bautista about the accompanying green garlic gratin, and an interesting fact is there is no cream in it--it was just layers of potato with a leek puree, clever.
I ordered the porterhouse pork chop ($23), whose description wooed me with the springtime promise of morels and ramps. But I guess food costs prevailed because I only had three small bites of morels--the tender turnips and artichokes were actually more of the sideshow. My Niman Ranch chop was quite substantial and cooked just right, like, spot-on, but I think it was brined for too long--let's just say I was very thirsty later that evening.
I'm not going to go into detail on the desserts because there is supposedly a new pastry consultant who is changing things up. Which is just as well, because the tartness of the passion fruit and strawberry granite ($6.50) we tried was like a pimp slap to the tongue.
Okay, so the vinos. Oenophiles will have definitely enjoy imbibing here, and if you get a chance to engage owner David White in crafting some pairings, you'll get some solid tableside education. And you have 29 to choose from by the glass, many of them Old World--White's passion for wine is really apparent. Service has a lot of finer dining touches, like a switching out of all flatware with each course, quality stemware, and your napkin is folded if you head off to the loo. Very attentive water service too--my glass was never empty.
The cheerful space has a tri-color banquette with panels of carrot orange, aubergine, and a sandy taupe, with additional punches of color from a bright powder blue back wall, and an orange swath running along the ceiling. Woods abound, from the dark oak floors to tables inlaid with zebrawood to the handcrafted wood bar--you can tell a lot of work went into all the furnishing. But couple all the hard surfaces with the closely aligned tables and the narrow space, and, well, you've got some serious restaurant chatter.
Nua means "new' in Irish, and while the restaurant's non-Italian concept and clean contemporary look are definitely new for North Beach, the minimalist modern look and color scheme reminded me of what I was seeing at the 2001 ICFF in New York. I know plenty of people who will be attracted to the Wallpaper*-esque design aesthetic, complete with a downtempo future jazz electronica soundtrack, but when you hang out with a bunch of talented designer homos like I do, you can become a little, uh, choosy? I'll cop to it.
On a Friday night the space was buzzing with a mostly hip and urban crowd, from double-dating couples to some restaurant industry folks checking the restaurant out, with the added spice of some cougars from Lafayette out on the prowl (rawr). Lunch is launching this summer, and since the restaurant is on the sunny side of the street, perhaps that's when the wine bar part of the name will be felt more, with folks lingering too long over glasses, heck, a bottle, of the Robert Sinskey vin gris of pinot noir in the afternoon light.
Nua Restaurant and Wine Bar
550 Green St.
Cross: Jasper Place