Natsumi Tapas Melds Japanese and Italian Cuisines in Gramercy
Barbara Matsumura, the woman who pioneered large, sumptuous pieces of sushi at Haru, announced a new and original concept—Natsumi Tapas. Taking the fusion of Japanese and Italian flavors inspired by her travels to Italy (and first introduced at Natsumi in the theater district) to the next level, the new location will focus on small plates for grazing and larger plates for sharing, offering a wide variety of dishes to be paired with cocktails, wine, beer, and sake in a room designed for communal dining.
Matsumura first started creating restaurant concepts in 1985, when she opened the upscale restaurant Kaname in New Jersey. Within the first year, she had opened a second location. Since then, she has opened a total of 15 restaurants including the original Joe’s Shanghai in Flushing, Tomo near Columbia University, seven Haru locations (eventually sold to Benihana), three Daruma locations, and Natsumi, a bar, lounge and restaurant going strong in the theater district. She is also a leader and innovator in hospitality, working with a loyal staff (many who have been with her for years) who are well-trained and educated.
At Natsumi Tapas, Matsumura merges Japanese and Italian in a creative way, using only the highest quality ingredients. Matsumura is a talented cook in her own right, but she works with leading experts to realize her vision—including consulting Italian chef Andrea Tiberi from Perugia, Italy—particularly in developing the Italian-inspired dishes. Sushi chef Hiroyuki Nagao worked at the first Haru and at Tomo, then moved on to Nobu and Blue Ribbon Sushi after the Haru group of restaurants was sold.
There are many ways to experience Natsumi Tapas—and the extensive menu invites guests to return again and again. Cold tapas feature raw fish in both traditional and fusion style. Spicy Sunomono is a beautiful rendition of a classic Japanese dish—shrimp, octopus, kani, and surf clam in a delicate sweet sake-konbu vinaigrette; and Rainbow Sashimi Cucumber Roll combines blue fin tuna, salmon, super white tuna, avocado, and jalapeno in a rice-free cucumber naruto-style roll. Sashimi Tacos are a bit of a departure, available in several spicy flavors that pop on the palate—tuna, salmon, super white tuna or crab in an extra crispy house-fried tortilla shell. Natsumi Carpaccio comes in several varieties including Salmon with Jalapeno in a spicy sesame soy vinaigrette.
Sushi plates range from the Natsumi Nigiri—a combination of raw and lightly seared top-shelf fish dotted with flavored garnishes such as serrano chile: tuna, salmon, yellowtail, seared tuna, seared salmon, seared yellowtail and a crunchy spicy tuna roll. Natsumi Seared Salmon Toro Don brings together beautifully contrasting flavors of seared salmon marinated with smokey soy sauce, salmon caviar and avocado over sushi rice. Special sushi rolls pick up themes from popular Broadway shows: The “Wolf Hall” Roll is spicy salmon, spicy tuna, and spicy super white tuna with tobiko over a tempura fried roll.
From the hot kitchen, tapas include Tofu Veggie Toban Yaki, hearty tofu steaks in a delicious garlic sesame and sweet soy sauce and sauteed vegetables and Filet Mignon Tataki, thinly sliced rare and tender beef with a complex and wonderfully complementary ponzu truffle sauce.
Japanese Squid is lightly fried and paired with wasabi cream sauce. Ciao Meatballs are light and airy beef in a variety of sauces: parmesan cream, spicy teriyaki basil pesto, and spicy scallion marinara. Other Hot Tapas include a selection of pastas—Grilled Shiitake Penne with truffle cream sauce, rich and delicious with an interesting twist from the shiitake mushrooms; Shrimp Fettuccine gets a lovely burst of citrus from yuzu tobiko in an alfredo sauce; and Chicken Katsu Penne pairs panko-crusted chicken cutlet with penne in a fresh pomodoro sauce.
Not to be missed is the melding of cuisine in the Natsumi Grilled Salmon with tomato sauce, olives, capers, scallions and bok choy, or the Green Tea Ricotta Flatbread covered with arugula, sliced grapes, tofu, king oyster mushrooms and a drizzle of truffle oil and balsamic reduction.
General manager Shawn Tomassi (who trained at culinary school and has been with Natsumi since 2007 and is now a part owner) has designed a beverage program that includes beer, sake, and an International wine list as well as a complete list of hand-crafted cocktails featuring fresh juices and purees. Rising Sun-gria is a lovely, layered fusion of sparkling red wine (Lambrusco) with blackberry brandy, peach schnapps and fruit puree, garnished with lychee and served in a wine glass. Whiskey Hunny combines Japanese whiskey with yuzu honey and yuzu juice. New York Twist is a take on the Manhattan with the addition of ginger, and Kiss of Fire takes its kick from jalapeno-infused vodka made in house, balanced with fruit juice and strawberry puree.