What do you get when you cross top-rate food with Mexican pro wrestling? Nada!
Nada, David Falk's new restaurant, has a very chic, serious interior. The architecture of the two floors swoops at every turn, from the curved, wooden stairway leading to the second floor to the wooden slats hovering from the ceiling over the bar and the first-floor booths that arch around diners like a protective hand.
But as you might guess from my initial question, Nada has an impish side as well. A quick look at the Mexican movie and comic pop art on the menu covers clues you in. It's also apparent in the bathrooms. Even though I pay close attention to restaurant bathrooms I avoid writing about them, but Nada's cry out to be mentioned. Over the sinks in the ladies room, a screen plays telenovelas (Mexican soap operas). Fellas, you get the pro wrestlers.
On a Tuesday night the place is jumping almost as much as our animated host who leads us through the warm red, orange and brown tones to a table overlooking the host area and staircase. The upstairs is a bit quieter than the more raucous first floor, but the whole place has a casual vibe that sits well with me -- the kind that makes me want to settle in for a two- or three-hour dinner.
A basket of warm, salty chips and salsa quickly appears at our table as we place drink orders. The spicy salsa of fresh tomatoes, roasted tomatillos, chipotle, cilantro and apple cider vinegar isn't the typical pico de gallo variety; it was a more watery consistency -- just right for guzzling.
Nada's menu is divided into several categories: Antojitos (little whims), which includes appetizers and tacos; soups and salads; Cazuelas (Mexican stews) and entrees. Our server, one of the many T-shirt- and jeans-clad staff, was a fountain of knowledge about these items. After telling us the origins of the meat products (the chicken is from Gerber farms in Ohio, the pork from Niman Ranch and the mahi mahi from South American day boats), he offered recommendations that were right on target.
We started with a hearty dish of the Guacamole ($10) that was citrus-y with no harsh garlic after-bite and served with slices of cucumber, radish and daikon as well as more chips. Who know guac tasted so wonderful of a sliver of daikon!
Then we moved on to a mini taco party ordering each type: Mahi Mahi ($10/2 tacos), Carnitas ($8/2 tacos), Baracoa ($10/2 tacos) and Chicken Taquitos ($7/for 2). The Baracoa Tacos were the absolute hit of the table. The short ribs were covered in a Mexican barbeque sauce of fire roasted jalapeño, poblano, Anaheim and chipotle peppers, brown sugar, tomato and vinegar, and they were served with cilantro and pickled red onion. My head exploded with memories of the food on Mexico's Yucatan peninsula -- fresh corn tortillas, marinated meats, pickled red onion and habanero salsa.
The Chicken Taquitos were the second favorite of the women folk at the table -- the fried tortilla tubes were filled with flavorful chicken covered in a tangy tomatillo salsa, queso fresco and asadero cheese. Our least favorite were the mahi mahi -- the mild flavor seemed to get lost in the frying process. Next time I'll try the Mahi Mahi entree ($22) with jalapeño pesto and tomato vinaigrette.
For dinner we ordered the Pork Green Chile ($17), a braised pork stew made with roasted chilies and salsa verde and served with a side of poblano-spiked rice; the Lamb Shoulder ($21), a braised lamb stew prepared with ancho mole sauce, raisins and peas with a side of the rice and the Roasted Chicken ($19) entree, which was citrus marinated and served with frijoles charros, rice and braised kale. Both of the stews were served in mini cast-iron pots that brimmed with the simple yet complex flavors of Mexican cuisine. The pork was my favorite -- the meat was fork tender and the sauce wonderfully tangy with the citrus overtones of the tomatillos followed by a hefty kick from the peppers.
I've never seen mole served with lamb before, but it's a combo someone should have tried years ago. The rich, raisin-y sauce is a natural complement. The beans, rice and kale of the roast chicken harken to the Southern states of the U.S. as well as its southern border. It's a wonderful idea for a home-cooked meal, but I could never match the succulent meat Chef Jonathan Mouch puts out of Nada's kitchen.
And finally dessert, all of which is made in house. At our server's suggestion we chose the Key Lime Cheesecake with a spicy berry sauce ($7) and the warm chocolate torte with Madisono's gelato and a banana foster style sauce ($8). If I closed my eyes the flavors of the cheesecake reminded me of the jelly and cream cheese toast I ate as a kid.
Nada my ass -- from start to finish this restaurant is anything but nothing. ©
Nada (Critics Pick)
Go: 600 Walnut St., Downtown
Hours: Dinner: 5-11 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 5-midnight Friday-Saturday (open for lunch starting in January; call for hours)
Prices: Small plates range from $7-$14; entrees range from $14-$22
Payment: All major credit cards
Red Meat Alternatives: Salads, sides, seafood
Accessibility: Fully accessible