Nuela: There's a New Duck Rice in Chelsea ...
Nuela, the new South American (Peruvian-ish) restaurant from Douglas Rodriguez apprentice Adam Schop, was pretty dead last night during prime eating hours, although, to be fair, it was a Tuesday in the August doldrums.
The menu is enormous, though anchored by a list of some moderately inventive ceviches, which are overpriced but very tasty. Then there's all manner of empanadas, grilled skewers, sandwiches, whole suckling pig, individual main dishes, and large plates for two. In this last category, the arroz con pato -- duck rice -- might catch your eye. Nuela is just a few blocks north of Aldea, which serves a version of arroz con pato that has garnered much (deserved) love.
Nuela's duck rice costs a whopping $60 and supposedly serves two, although it could actually fill up three or four, especially if the group also orders appetizers. It comes in a giant paella pan, the rice topped with a soft-cooked duck egg, tomato salsa, confit of thigh and gizzards, seared breast, and foie gras. You're meant to mix everything together, scraping up the crisp bits from the bottom of the pan.
This arroz con pato's best quality is that that stuck-on rice is deliciously, properly crunchy-chewy. And hey, a piece of seared foie gras doesn't hurt, either, even if it is somewhat lost in the big pile of rice and other duck bits. But beyond those pleasures -- and after you get over being impressed at the sheer size of the thing -- this dish just lays there limply, like any old paella, fried rice, or bi bim bap. The thigh confit is desperately over-salted; the breast tastes faintly bitter, as though it were seared in burned oil. The peas are starchy rather than sweet.
You might eat some of the leftovers cold for breakfast and find yourself thinking, "Oh, hey, this isn't so bad," before realizing that you feel the same way about day-old pizza from the corner joint -- which doesn't cost $60. Aldea's got nothing to worry about.
Nuela 43 West 24th Street 212-929-1200
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