The Renaissance Men of Spanish Cuisine Come Together at Barraca

Classic Spanish food has made its way to the heart of the West Village in the form of Barraca. While the restaurant brings tapas, paella, and sangria to late night diners, it also brings together two artistic restaurateurs: chef Jesus Nunez of the modern Spanish restaurant Gastroarte, and Héctor Sanz, founder of Quimeria Restaurant Group, which owns Rayuela and Macondo.

“We’ve been talking for a couple years now on creating something really great together and there were many conversations over many glasses of wine about what the right project would be,” said the 35-year-old Sanz. “We both agreed we wanted to get back to basics and for us, that was tapas, paella and sangria. New Yorkers are familiar with these things, but have never experienced them quite like what we offer at Barraca.

The goal of the two men is to bring not only authentic Spanish food to the table, but also share their culture and heritage. This includes their love for the arts.

In Sanz’s case, his passion for theater, film, and literature can be seen in how he names and themes his restaurants, like Rayuela means “hopscotch”and was inspired by Argentine writer Julio Cortázar’s experimental novel from 1963. In turn, the food also runs on the playful side. Macondo was named after the fictional town in Gabriel Garcia Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, and they serve Latin street fare. Barraca comes from a 1930’s traveling theater company led by artists and writers Federico García Lorca, Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel. Hence, the atmosphere of the restaurant brings to mind a traveling theater.

For the 36-year-old Nunez, his artistic side literally shows in his food at Gastroarte. There, each menu item evokes street art as plates are streaked with sauce, patterned with food gel, and shaped in unusual ways. You will not find dishes like this at Barraca, but instead, carefully crafted tapas like the deviled egg with tuna, grilled cuttlefish, and meatballs made with Nunez’s grandmother’s recipe.  They also serve charcuteria, salads, and six types of paella like the paella de tierra, which has chicken, rabbit, pork belly, pork ribs, and two types of beans.

“For us it’s about the authenticity of the product but also the life and style of our culture,” said Sanz. “Together we represent the new generation of Spanish restaurateurs and intend to bring our patrons the best Spanish food they’ve ever had.”  

Mexicans Out of the Kitchen! A Gourmet Fest Brings Latin Eats to the Fore

It’s a long running joke of the New York restaurant world that most local restaurants are, in fact, Mexican. You may be eating in a bistro named Chez Jacques, but chances are high that your food is being masterfully prepared by a dude named Juan from Puebla. Now here’s the punchline: these same industrious Latin American cats making your grub today working back-breaking shifts and sleeping nine to a room in Flushing are also learning the cutthroat New York resto business inside out. These are New York’s future restaurant owners. Marry that with the fact that there’s already a crew of top level Latin American chefs and owners – not all from Puebla, of course – killing it in kitchens from Tribeca to the Bronx to Madison Ave, and it’s shaping up to be a very Latin American dining experience for approximately…a very long time. So let’s celebrate! (Unless you’re a Tea Partier, in which case, build a fence around your house and eat some mayo.) And that’s where the first annual Gourmet Latino Festival comes in, a forward-thinking exploration of the Latin American culinary experience that hits New York City this June.

The event is the brainchild of three New York-based Latin American women, Mariana Suarez, Karen Uribe and Claudia Castro, and bills itself as “the first world-class, socially conscious celebration of Latin culture and culinary traditions featuring renowned chefs, mixologists and tastemasters.” (For the record using tastemaker and mixology in the same sentence cancels itself out, so there). The idea is to showcase “Latin America’s profound cultural richness and diversity.” In other words, to drive home the point once and for all that there’s much more to Latin eats than San Loco – that there’s some cutting edge, sophisticated material to be savored. Excellent New York spots like Centrico, Cuchacarama, Macondo, Rayuela, Fonda, Industria Argentina, Yerba Buena, Toloache, Palo Santo, Sueños, Zarela, Zafra and others will be taking part, with a portion of ticket sales earmarked for GrowNYC’s New Farmer Development Project. “We felt it was time to celebrate how Latin Chefs and Mixologists are revolutionizing the way we eat, drink and think about food and beverages, ” explains Karen Uribe, co-founder of the Gourmet Latino Festival. Tickets go for about $50 and get you a taste of the following countries: Peru, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico and Uruguay. The festival kicks off June 4th – 6th at the Astor Center on Lafayette Street, followed by a week of authentic dining at participating restaurants from June 8th – 12th. Buen provecho.

Photo by Natalia Castro Photography

Industry Insiders: Cole Bernard & Jason Lawrence, Cupcake Clubsters

The guys who brought you the beer-swilling sporty, fratty funhouse Porky’s, as well as the posh and exclusive Eldridge, are on the precipice of adding two more haunts to Manhattan’s repertoire. Amidst a year where the deafening sound of local shops and staple nightspots permanently closing their doors was heard citywide, Cole Bernard and Jason Lawrence of Status Nightlife have been working tirelessly and ambitiously, to open not one, but two new doors. Jason just made Gotham magazine’s list of 100 Hottest Eligible Bachelors, so the ladies have the opportunity to check him out whilst sinking their teeth into some liquor-laced cupcakes at new spot, Red Velvet; but not without stopping by The Yard first to watch the boys at the bar watching the boys on the field on giant flatscreens.

What’s up with your new spots? Cole Bernard: We have two new spaces. One’s in the Flatiron District, opening Halloween weekend. It’s called The Yard. It’s the former Porky’s space. The other is called Red Velvet, which will open at the end of the month as well. It’s on Rivington Street in the Lower East Side. Jason Lawrence: The Yard is an evolution of a New York high-energy, spirited, fun nightlife party bar. We brought a well-known artist in to do some interior cosmetic work. We’ll focus on a lot of happy hour stuff and then lead into nightlife. CB: We have a great lineup for Halloween weekend to launch the space. It’ll be decorated in multiple murals done by Darren Boerckel. Also designing is Steve Lewis, and he’s amazing.

How do you draw inspiration for a new nightclub? CB: With The Yard space, Darren has been on board with me though the last couple projects. So, I gave him the name and the goals I wanted to reach and said, “Darren, run with it.” He can paint the lights out of any place. JL: With Red Velvet, it was more drawn from us loving the area. We love the Lower East Side. It’s hot; it’s vibrant. It’s very in and yet still very up-and-coming. There are artists and galleries and restaurants and nightlife, and then real estate destroys the area. We thought it was a great area to make our stamp on. That’s what we intended when we opened The Eldridge, and that’s what Red Velvet will capture as well. Conceptually, we had the image of a very sexy, intimate lounge. We wanted high energy, high spirited, but we also wanted to add a little twist. We decided to partner up with Baked By Melissa and Charlotte Voisey, the famous mixologist, to come up with some spirit-inspired cupcakes for the lounge.

How did you two become partners? JL: I owned a PR firm in Miami when we were introduced. CB: Jason and I kind of have the same mindset. We see what the business is all about. We understand that it’s about creating a brand where people can come any day of the week.

Describe the prospective clientele at these new venues. CB: The Yard is going to be a mix of your neighborhood folks to your party bar crowd to your NYC night clubbers. It’s a place where you can go after work to unwind, have a beer and a burger. Then, on Friday and Saturday night, it’s a fun, high-energy bar where you can have a good time and get loose. JL: Bring your birthday group out. Bring your bachelor/bachelorette party out. Get a little wild

What are your door policies? CB: The Eldridge, which we opened in September of 2008, has been a great success. It’s a small space, so we do limit the amount of people that come in. Naeem Delbridge keeps a great flow and runs the door really well. Everyone from your models to your socialites to your downtown hipsters comes. Eldridge is a great space, and that’s why we want to continue the success that we have had on the LES with Red Velvet, which is just a block down. JL: Red Velvet will be far less pretentious. I want it to be more inviting to locals. If there are couples in the area that read about Red Velvet and want to check it out and come down for a cupcake, they’re not going to get stress at the door. I want to share the space and the experience with as many people as we can. The space will dictate. There will be times when it will be a little more difficult to get in because my capacity is 120, and I can’t let everyone in. That being said, I want a lot of people to have the Red Velvet experience. CB: But do expect a stricter door policy on busier nights.

How is it that you’re popping open two new clubs during a recession? JL: Denial helps a lot. CB: My theory on the recession, in any business — especially in nightlife — whether it’s a high-end sports bar, a nightclub, or just a hole-in-the-wall dive bar, you have to give people a reason to come. You have to create a niche product and a brand that gives the customer a reason to want to come out and spend money. Both places are designed and catered to individual customers to give them an experience they’ll remember.

What do you do for fun? JL: Work is fun to me. My lifestyle is fun to me. I try to keep a good balance between the social aspect, the family, and the friends. CB: Opening two spaces at once pretty much took over my life. I’d say, hitting events, going out to dinner and drinks with friends, going to the movies, the usual stuff. Is there a lot of time for that? No, but I try to find time for it.

Are you single? CB: I’m single and mingling. JL: I’m seeing someone.

Does being a club owner make it easier to score with the ladies? CB: Obviously, it’s an advantage. But it’s a lot to handle when you have girls flocking your way. When people ask me what I do in the spaces, sometimes I tell them I’m a bathroom attendant. I don’t like the ownership role. But yes, it does give the single guy an advantage

Long-term goals? JL: I want to expand to other markets and other cities and continue to build the brand. I’d also like to continue to build my relationship with Cole and other people we bring on board. I want to keep creatively coming up with ideas that work and bring longevity. CB: Jason hit it right on the nail. I want to bring Status Nightlife Group to a recognized brand. I want to start a family sometime in my mid-thirties, so that’s in the back of my head.

What does it really take to open and maintain a nightclub in New York? CB: New York’s a tough market. There are so many places. It’s not just, “Hey I’m gonna invest a half a million dollars or a million dollars to open a place and just crush it.” Five years ago? Yes, when the economy was booming. Now there’s so much competition, you really need to bring a concept and bring in operations. You need to bring the whole nine to the table with you. JL: If your ego’s driving you, you’re going to have big problems. This is a business that’s built on relationships, trust, and experience. It takes a lot of different people on your team to make anything successful. Fortunately, I have a good team, and creatively, we click. CB: For The Yard and Status Group, we brought on Amanda Mitchell of Southern Hospitality PR. She focuses on The Yard and on Jason and me personally. Then there’s Matt Hein of East Side PR. JL: Matt used to run BNC and Harrison & Shriftman. He brings a lot of experience and know-how. The bottom line is: we trust these people. They have our best interests at heart.

What are your go-to places in New York? CB: I’m a big fan of La Esquina, Macondo, and Apizz. JL: My good friend Eugene Remm opened Abe and Arthur’s, so I’ve got to give him a plug. I like our spots. The key to our success is that we create environments that we like to participate in and I think that’s crucial. You have to be able to have fun in your own environment.

New York: Top 10 Frozen Cocktails

Macondo (Lower East Side) – Hero to gourmand alkies everywhere, Junior Merino has gone and done it again. His Aguacate and Mescal at Rayuela’s younger, cheaper, funner sis is probably the greatest thing to ever muck up a blender. Creamy fresh avocado, sweet agave nectar, and Scorpion mescal by the frosty, puke-green pitcher. ● Momofuku Noodle Bar (East Village) – The porky ramen bar takes 7-Eleven to school, son, with its watermelon lemonade Soju Slushie. Big gulp a couple and marvel at how all the blond wood is like getting smashed inside somebody’s cool balsa architecture project. Brain freeze! ● Rusty Knot (West Village) – Named after the most disgusting sex act ever, the eponymous frozen mojito is also a kitschy tiki classic. Spotted Pig via Key West is the perfect camped-out cruise — supplement your plastic cup of rum-n-sugar with a pig in a blanket and sunset over the West Side Highway. Only thing missing is Gavin MacLeod.

El Quinto Pino (Chelsea) – Who needs tables when you’ve got frozen basil gin lemonade? The tall, sallow, and icy Pomada manages to complement both the crack-esque sea urchin panini and the cracked-out crazy of the sardined crowd. Throwing drug dealer etiquette to the wind, the first one, unfortunately, is not on the house. ● Brooklyn Bowl (Williamsburg) – Bowling just screams margaritas, doesn’t it, hipsters? New Billyburg pin spot’s Prophet’s Margarita is un-disgusting machine slush with optional fresh strawberry topping. Sixteen lanes for rolling, flatscreens above the alleys, food from Blue Ribbon, swank settees, all distract from frozen ‘rita gutterballs. ● Matsuri at the Maritime Hotel (Chelsea) – Gorgeous, modelicious mega-room throws some bling in the blender. Asti and Riesling class up oxymoronic frozen bubbly known as the Golden Pavilion, served in a flute and floating with gold leaf. Akin to $500 jeans and grilling grass-fed bison. You fancy. ● Rosa Mexicano (Union Square) – Satisfy your equally contradictory posh-Mexican cravings with a Frozen Pomegranate Margarita. Vague Chili’s undercurrent, but like the Big Pepper, doesn’t skimp on el diablo (tequila). Get sloppy enough to be totally, totally okay with $19 chicken tacos. ● Habana Outpost (Fort Greene) – Enviro chic spin-off New Faces Soho café, save a buck on your frozen margarita by bicycling the blender yourself. Flaunt your street cred — shun plain Jane mango and strawberry for vaguely exotic guava. Best recycled-wood picnic table, solar-powered, parking lot drunk ever. ● Daddy’s (Williamsburg) – Who’s yours now? asks the ingenious Margerveza—beer frothed with margarita slush. Goes down dreamy on the small outdoor patio of this little pocket of cool near the borough-slicing BQE. Just don’t get so biquored you lay in the dirt-filled bathtub, nastypants. ● Dos Caminos Soho (Soho) – Join the pretties in the caged patio slurping Prickly Pear Margaritas. Practice looking bored, and later, sober. Try not to dribble on your best after-dark costume. Will require your strongest Pedialite/crushed aspirin hangover cure come manana.