First Impressions: Nish Nush

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).

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12 Comments

  1. looks fab, we’ll go test it out soon!

  2. Restaurants that rush to open without soft openings will only go downhill from the opening.

    BatteryPark.TV

  3. Definitely interested to try a good falafel place in the area. Glad to hear that the falafel compares favorably to Taim. I think I am a little more optimistic than the sour Mr Greer.

  4. Sorry. I was not clear. My comments were not about this place at all they were addressing the author’s guilt and rating a new place on the first day. My point was that it is the fault of bad management if they do not properly do dry-run soft openings. Once they open they are fair game to be judged.

    Most NYC restaurants are poorly run and should be shut down, in my opinion.

  5. Soft openings for a place like this? Get serious!

  6. Tried it last night. The food was good and the staff nice. I think this place will be a hit.

  7. They’ve already had “soft” openings to an extent: it’s run by some of the same people from Chick P in Prospect Heights and Fish & Sip in Park Slope. If some of the menu items look familiar, it’s for a reason.

  8. Got takeout here on Sunday around noon just as they were opening. Atmosphere was chaotic as per usual with a new resto opening. I got a classic falafel sandwich, a sabich sandwich and a side of hummus with pita. Overall I’d say the food was pretty good but not as flavorful or fresh tasting as Taim (I’ve eaten falafel and sabich from Taim mobile dozens of times). One thing that stood out on the menu was that their delivery zone ends at the West side hwy. Message to management: there are at least eight (8) 28+ story high rise apartment buildings in North BPC between the highway and the Hudson River. These buildings could represent 50% or more of your delivery business. It you want to survive, when you start delivery service, have your guys cross the highway!

  9. This is the real Deal.

  10. FYI: Schug (as they spell it; not schrug as Erik did) is the green sauce in the middle depression at the right side of that loaded plate, between the pickles and what looks like tahini sauce. It’s kind of the Middle Eastern equivalent of a Mexican salsa verde: pureed chiles and herbs, with a very powerful kick. Now that you know, do you remember how you liked it?

    I’ll be interested in seeing how this place stacks up against Alfanoose, which imo has the best falafel downtown. Better pitas, too, not those pillowy, doughy things.

  11. @Suzanne: No wonder Google was no help…. I recall liking it, but I like the sauce you get at Taim more — it’s more golden than green.

  12. Please deliver to the BPC!