I wouldn’t normally do a First Impressions article on a restaurant the very day it opens, but Tribeca Canvas and Benares are already on my to-do list and Cricketer’s Arms is opening this week. Actually, what I’d normally prefer to do is a New Kid on the Block post, which is less of a review and more of a profile, but Nish Nush‘s owner, Eyal Hen, went silent in the days before the opening.
He was otherwise occupied because, I learned today, one of his employees bailed right before the restaurant was due to open. That explained that slightly harried atmosphere at lunch, including the unbussed tables, and I was pleased (if that’s the right word) when he showed frustration about the situation: If you don’t know something is wrong, you’re not going to fix it. “Give me two or three weeks and we’ll be fine!” he said. “I don’t even know how to work this cash register yet!”
The problem is, people are already swarming the place. It’s certainly the most appealing option to open in southeast Tribeca in eons; the quadrant isn’t exactly ripe with takeout options, let alone handsome ones.
I’ve said it before, but I can’t imagine anyone expected Nish Nush to look as good as it does. I had a fondness for Mike’s Papaya (even though I never went there), and I was sort of sorry to see its scruffiness go—but what an improvement! For a tiny space, Nish Nush packs visual punch, with gridded windows, high wooden ceilings, industrial lights and stools, and my favorite, tables with chickpeas encased in Lucite. Despite the 24 seats—at a 12-seat communal table, two four-tops, and a small counter)—the restaurant seems likely to be more popular for takeout.
If the decor sounds a bit like other restaurants in the area—Terroir, for instance—there are quirky details, too, such as the “N” door handle, the trays that are not only metallic but in a pattern that reminded me of snakeskin, and gilded baskets. The staff members wear bowlers.
You grab a menu (click to enlarge) when you walk in, then get in line. The menu has three main categories: pita sandwiches, platters, and salads; there are also many side dishes and a soup of the day, and you can “blend your own hummus” with mix-ins such as artichoke and corn. Peek at the options laid out behind the sneeze guard while you wait, but when it’s your turn, be ready. After you order, you stand around with everyone else; there’s no number or name system, which the restaurant might want to consider, because otherwise patrons have to stay laser-focused on the menu items being yelled out into the crowd. I’m hoping that when a Purple Rain Salad gets announced the crew sings the song’s chorus.
I ordered the Falafel Trio, so named because there are three flavors (the traditional, roasted red pepper, which was rather spicy, and spinach and mushroom), and it came with a mountain of food, including hummus, Israeli salad, two cabbage salads, a bit of romaine salad, olives and pickles, tahini and schrug, and a pita. I still don’t know what schrug is, and I don’t care. Part of what I love about vegetarian Israeli food is that it doesn’t really matter. I didn’t care for the pita, but then I rarely do, even at my beloved Taïm; there’s a type of pita that strikes me as supermarket-y, and if that’s how it supposed to be, well, no one ever took me for Middle Eastern. And I could take or leave the Israeli salad (mainly tomatoes and cucumbers), because it’s December and I believe tomatoes should be considered as seasonal as raspberries. (And it’s the same way at Taïm.) Despite those complaints, I hoovered down my lunch: The falafel was excellent, and so was the side of fried cauliflower (served room temp) and “lemonana,” a Slurpee-sweet frozen drink of lemon and mint that was crying out for gin and an Adirondack chair.
Nish Nush is at 88 Reade (at Church), 212-964-1318 or 212-964-1315; nishnushnyc.com. The hours are Monday to Saturday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Delivery is available (or soon will be).
Recent New Kid on the Block/First Impressions articles:
• Roberta Roller Rabbit
• Westville Hudson
• Sushi of Gari Tribeca
• Barry’s Bootcamp
• Trinity Place Department Store