Gramercy’s Natsumi Tapas Successfully Merges Japanese, Italian, and Just a Hint of Latin Flavor

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It may sound crazy, but somehow, it works, and it works well.

Restaurant industry veteran Barbara Matsumura is responsible for the upscale Kaname in New Jersey, Joe’s Shanghai in Flushing, Tomo near Columbia University, seven Haru locations, three Daruma locations, and Natsumi in the Theater District. After nearly three decades in the biz, she had her sights set on retirement. But after half a year, Barbara became “bored” and emerged with a desire to get her creative juices flowing again, this time with something nobody would see coming: Italian and Japanese Fusion.

“One of my partners is Italian, so 11 years ago, I visited his restaurant in Verona, Italy,” she said. “I went to his kitchen and started making Asian-inspired dishes with Italian ingredients and saw the flavors worked well together. I felt the food was healthy and flavorful.”

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Now, consulting chef Andrea Tiberi from Italy and sushi chef Hiroyuki Nagao are working in harmony to find just the right balance for some unexpected ingredient pairings; and though the word “tapas” has Latin origins, you won’t find too many of those flavors here.

“We went with ‘tapas’ because most people equate tapas to small plates. Our focus is about 70% Japanese and 30% percent Italian,” she said. “But we did borrow the use of cilantro, jalapeno and tortilla shells for our cuisine.”

Those shells are used for the Sashimi Tacos, which are a bit of a departure from the rest of the sushi menu. They’re available in several spicy flavors that pop on the palate: tuna, salmon, super white tuna or crab in an extra crispy house-fried tortilla shell, and fan-favorite “Wolf Hall” Roll is spicy salmon, spicy tuna, and spicy super white tuna with tobiko over a tempura fried roll. Other cold plates include Spicy Sunomono made with shrimp, octopus, kani, and surf clam in a delicate sweet sake- konbu vinaigrette, and Rainbow Sashimi Cucumber Roll combines blue fin tuna, salmon, super white tuna, avocado, and jalapeno in a rice-free cucumber naruto-style roll.

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From the hot kitchen, tapas include beefy Ciao Meatballs in a variety of sauces: parmesan cream, spicy teriyaki basil pesto, and spicy scallion marinara.

Other Hot Tapas include a selection of pastas:

– Grilled Shiitake Penne with truffle cream sauce, rich and delicious with an interesting twist from the shiitake mushrooms

– Shrimp Fettuccine gets a lovely burst of citrus from yuzu tobiko in an alfredo sauce

Chicken Katsu Penne pairs panko-crusted chicken cutlet with penne in a fresh pomodoro sauce, and Green Tea Ricotta Flatbread covered with arugula, sliced grapes, tofu, king oyster mushrooms and a drizzle of truffle oil and balsamic reduction.

Natsumi Tapas’s beautiful interior suggests you may be met with equally lavish prices, but you can make a hearty meal work for under 100 bucks.

Chicken Katsu Penne.

Additionally, General Manager and part-owner Shawn Tomassi has designed a beverage program that includes beer, sake, and an international wine list as well as a complete list of hand-crafted cocktails featuring fresh juices and purees like Rising Sun-gria, a layered fusion of sparkling red wine with blackberry brandy, peach schnapps and fruit puree, garnished with lychee and served in a wine glass.

“I’m turning 60 years old this year, but my employees say I still have good energy because I always try to eat healthy and want my guests to experience the same,” she said. “We use a lot of Japanese vinegar and Italian balsamic vinegar. I believe all of these are good for our health. It’s important to maintain a good balance.”

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