When you think of fusion, you’re probably picturing something like kimchi tacos or ramen burgers. You probably don’t think about sushi and meatballs.
But that’s exactly what they’re thinking at Natsumi Tapas (323 Third Ave. at 24th Street), a new restaurant/lounge in Gramercy where gastropreneur Barbara Matsumura of Haru fame, is combining the delicacies of her beloved Japanese cuisine with the red-sauce wholesomeness of Italian fare.
Inspired by a trip to Italy, Matsumura called in Chef Andrea Tiberi of Perugia to work alongside sushi chef Hiroyuki Nagao to come up with some very interesting Italian/Japanese combinations, like shrimp fettuccine with yuzu tobiko in an alfredo sauce, or chicken katsu penne.
If you think all this sounds weird, you clearly haven’t been following this latest New York dining trend, which is currently also manifesting itself across town at David Chang’s Momofuku Nishi, where Japanese and Italian cuisines also cohabit. You can try it at Natsumi Tapas for a little less dosh.
On a recent visit, we started with the Trio Zensai ($15), a tasting platter with an Italianesque option that includes spicy meatballs alongside crunchy spicy salmon roll and Japanese crispy chicken. While each component was perfectly delicious, there is something mind-messingly bizarre about following a tomato-sauced bite of meatball with raw salmon. But hey, you only live once.
For main dishes, the Tofu Veggie Toban Yaki ($11) is a sumptuously sizzling option, that is more filling than you’d think with large squares of fried tofu intermingled with sautéed vegetables. Although the Italian flare rears up throughout the menu, much of what’s on offer is quintessentially Japanese, and so if you’re in the mood for sushi or sashimi, this is a good place to have it.
The Italian fusion comes back again in the desserts (all $8), where the tempura cheese cake is oddly reminiscent of east village cheese blintzes (in a good way), and tartufoes come with the option of red bean and green tea ice creams.
The ambiance here is swanky and modern. The array of two-person booths make this a good stop for a date, even if it’s just a drink (a bar-only area extends to the right as you walk in).
If you’re into trying the latest fusion trend, this is a good place to start. But if red sauce juxtaposed with soy sauce freaks you out, don’t worry, there’s stuff here for you, too.
Twisted Talk: What’s your favorite fusion combo? Does fusion feel dated or cutting edge? Discuss below!