For Musée Magazine's first venture into the cuisine of New York City, we visited chef Jésus Núñez's new Mediterranean spot, Melibea. Located in the West Village, the restaurant is centered around the theme of a Spanish folk tale, with Melibea being the protagonist of the story. Melibea actually shares both its kitchen and staff with another space, Barraca, which serves more rustic Spanish cuisine, tapas and the like, and keeps 6 different sangrias on tap at all times. Melibea espouses a broad Mediterranean taste, encapsulating numerous regions in order to produce it's own vibe. Chef Núñez's chicken with Syrian spices (which I was told included cumin, cardamom, and oregano), was just one of the many dishes that paired Núñez's native Spanish feel with a Middle Eastern twist.
As for our starters, his home-made ricotta with preserved lemon and fresh oregano stood out in particular to me. Solidly creamy, it softens and fills the mouth immediately on contact, and the slight taste of lemon allows it to finish well. In fitting with the Middle Eastern twist, we also had hummus and babaganoush, on an elegantly soft flatbread. The lamb with yogurt and pistachio paste was another example of the varied Mediterranean base, evoking Aegean tones. It was also a prime representation of how Núñez's food is meant to be tasted, as a combination of many individual flavors. As he said to me, "Don't be scared. Just get a little bit of everything." This is an appropriate way to engage with Núñez's dishes.
Núñez spoke of his past in Madrid as a graffiti artist, and as a result the presentation is not disappointing. His street art career spanned fifteen years, and he still enjoys taking promotional photographs of his food. Núñez moved to New York City for love, without friends or knowing the language, four years ago. Although struggling at first, in time Núñez started a restaurant in the Upper West Side before shifting downtown.
His artistry, including his daring use of flavor pairings, is without a doubt, Núñez's strongest suit. Núñez is continually toying with his plates, altering presentation on a daily basis. It is of no surprise that he was a contestant on Iron Chef (his ingredient was octopus, and he lost, but only by one point, and he seems skeptical of the judging. I don't blame him.)
Núñez strives to be provocative in a way that should be applauded, and his dessert of roast fennel atop white chocolate powder was probably the most polarizing dish of the evening. He truly approaches his craft in the fashion of a street artist, with an appreciation of cultural history, as well as a drive to shake up culinary conventions. Núñez's newest venture is an expression of a combination of exciting flavor and a very visual experience. You will not be disappointed.
Written by Travis Huse
Learn More About Melibea HERE