I had all sorts of crazy foodie thoughts going through my mind when I first decided to review Natsumi Tapas. I could not picture Japanese and Italian cuisines blending together. I was picturing risotto in place of rice for California Rolls and marinara sauce on tempura, LOL! When I got to this chic Gramercy Park location although, all my skeptical thoughts went to the wayside. It is right on a convenient corner of 24th Street and Third Avenue (323 Third Avenue to be exact) which has a lot of residential buildings around it–and seems to have become both the “neighborhood hang” and a place where foodies from other neighborhoods and even out of town want to sample the whole menu! Let me add here that although these are supposedly “tapas” type portions, they are actually quite large and bigger than entrees at some of the chic eateries downtown. Owner Barbara Matsumura came up with this clever concept with Italian chef Andrea Tiberi and sushi chef Hiroyuki Nagao and I knew it would be good because I have lived about ten doors east of Matusmura’s first Haru restaurant, a real neighborhood staple on the Upper East Side.
I was especially shocked at the size of the Grilled Filet Mignon–it was at least a six ounce portion and ran only $11. This is no regular grilled filet as it is nicely sliced with some fresh broccoli and scallions, insanely tender and covered with the house teriyaki sauce which takes the chefs a full eight hours to make! I probably could have this dish seven days per week and not get bored! They prepared the meat perfectly medium rare, which is just as I wanted it!
If you are a tempura lover, which I am, you MUST come to Natsumi and try theirs! The portion is large (featuring about a dozen large pieces of veggies including eggplant, onion, sweet potatoes and broccoli) and done to delightfully golden brown perfection. The soy and sweet dipping sauces are just right, too. I liked that the coating was crispy and not soft which is how it is supposed to be in traditional Japanese cooking.
The also serve luscious looking salads, flatbreads and sushi which I did not try on my recent visit, but you can bet that I will be going back! The Chicken Katsu Penne is a must as far as Natsumi’s pasta selection goes–the breading on the chicken was Japanese style but the savory house-made marinara sauce made it taste like a Parmigiana style dish!
I was seriously impressed with Natsumi’s truly creative desserts which really showed how Italian and Japanese together can create dining perfection (especially for those who have a sweet tooth). Now do not get me wrong–there are plenty of healthy things on the menu, many which are grilled veggies done in special ways–but i fell particularly hard for the Tempura Ice Cream and Cannoli With Green Tea Ice Cream. These are possibly the two most creative desserts in New York right now. The coating on the Tempura Ice Cream is soft and sweet thanks to the moisture from the ice cream coming through and the cannoli is hand stuffed with the classic Sicilian-style ricotta (aka “cassata”) cream but the delicately flavored homemade green tea ice cream on the side creates a particularly great partnership on a dessert plate!
The menu at Natsumi Tapas is HUGE and you will love the friendly and accommodating staff. You also feel that you really get a lot for your money and the family style serving policy is a winner since these “tapas” plates are ideal for sharing. For more info, go to http://www.natsumitapas.com/