Nao: Interwoven Education and Food Perfection

I love the concept of Nao.  It’s a capstone class for the Culinary Institute of America students where they get to work both the back and the front of the house to really understand and appreciate how a restaurant functions.  The flavor has always tended to that of Latin America, but they seem to recently have moved away from the small plate format to a combination of small plates and main courses.  I like this much better as it allows for a little sharing at the beginning of dinner, but then you get a yummy meal that’s all yours (unless your husband likes your dinner better)!

As usual, we started with drinks.  I had a Mother’s Little Helper, a concoction of Pisco, lemon, hibiscus syrup, and sparkling wine – the perfect refreshing drink for the last days of summer.  Among the rest of the group, we also had a Margarita, a Mule and a Santa Ana Siesta.   We pored over the menu for quite some time – we always get distracted with chatting, especially when cocktails are involved.  Our server, Brit, who is in his last semester of school at the CIA, was very patient with us as we seemed ready to order, but were not… about five times.

Duck Rillette

Duck Rillette

We finally settled on some starters to share – the spiced nuts, the duck rillette (just in case you were wondering, it is pronounced ree-‘yet NOT rill-‘it… oops), the grilled endive, bacon and goat cheese salad, and the beer braised octopus.  All were quite good, although the endive was the least popular simply because it just wasn’t as interesting in terms of flavor profile.



The main course was good to us as well.  I had the seared scallops with Serrano hame and was in heaven.  The mango habanera chutney really brought the whole dish together.  I could have eaten in it all in about two bites, but alas, I had to share with the hubs.  He had the smoke roasted skirt steak, which was tasty, but no match for the scallops.  Our companions, M and J, had the cashew crusted pork T-bone and the pan friend red snapper with peanut sauce, respectively.  Given the four cleaned plates, I would say the consensus was that everything was pretty darn good.   Almost forgot to mention – we had an amazing tempranillo, Zuccardi 2009, which was versatile enough to complement both the seafood and the red meat.



Dessert was divine, and we basically ate enough to constitute another whole dinner.  The menu has six desserts on it, but we thought it would be overkill to get more than four, so we ended up with the Oaxacan chocolate torte, the pineapple guajillo savarin, buttermilk panna cotta and the ginger peach cobbler.  All were very tasty, but the chocolate torte with a caffe’ Lolita (coffee liqueur with a hint of chocolate) could not be beat.  We were also treated to a visit by Geronimo Lopez-Monascal, the Executive Chef.

Overall, an excellent meal with fabulous company.


Our rating:

Atmosphere 7.5
Service 8.0
Food 7.6
Total 7.7

The only complaint on the atmosphere is that it’s a bit loud in the restaurant.


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