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Restaurants & Bars 57

Neta: Ex Masa and Bar Masa Head Chefs Open an Understated Stunner in the West Village

michelleats | Apr 4, 2012 11:31 AM

For accompanying photographs, please see http://www.girleatscity.com/2012/04/n...

In Mexican Spanish slang, "neta" means roughly "the real thing". In Japanese, "neta" means roughly "the good stuff that comes with the shari". In multicultural New York, Neta restaurant is both. This newcomer, opened by ex-Masa and Bar Masa head chefs Nick Kim and Jimmy Lau, is legit. It appears (on the basis of my one meal) to serve some of the best sushi this city currently has to offer -- and some seriously good neta to go with it.

At a recent meal a few weeks after opening, the menu was focused: It offers sushi -- omakase, sashimi, nigiri or rolls -- and small plates. Since I had a ticking time bomb strapped tightly to my chest (a.k.a. an infant), we had to reluctantly pass on the omakase. But we did order a variety of small plates, nigiri, sashimi and rolls.

The small plates blew us away. I know there are some who will complain about the portion sizes being disproportionate to the prices, but there is no arguing with the quality of the ingredients. Everything was pristinely fresh and prepared with care.

A small plate of dungeness crab with cucumber, wild parsley, dashi vinaigrette included sweet, meaty, perfectly picked crab. The chefs behind the counter tossed this with just the right proportion of fragrant, juicy cucumber; mild, tender parsley; and a nicely understated vinaigrette.

The grilled whole scallop with uni, garlic soy butter and lime (pictured above) might've been a tad pricey at $18 a pop, but whatever twinge of guilt I had at the price tag dissipated when I tried the gorgeous combination of tender, still-warm scallop with savory-sweet, cool uni and lime.

A likable, homey dish of seasonal rice with crispy baby icefish and salted mizuna greens was similar to the grilled sardine rice cakes we had at Naoe in Miami. I think the crispy baby icefish may also be known as niboshi or dried baby sardines. They added a subtle, non-fishy umami richness to the rice that even my dining companion, who is not ordinarily a fan of sardines or other oily fish, enjoyed.

I had five types of sashimi: akami (lean tuna), suji (grilled toro sinew), kanpachi (yellowtail), sawara (Spanish mackerel) and unagi (eel). Since convention varies from place to place, it's worth noting that Neta serves two pieces of sashimi per order, cut to the proper (not overly large) size. Each piece I tried was well cut and tender. The suji, kanpachi and sawara were served with delicate, barely there slivers of young ginger. Unagi was nicely seasoned and rich, without being overly fatty. Suji, which I'd never tried before, was firm, but not at all stringy or tough, textures I usually associate with sinew. I'm not sure I was overly excited by this preparation, since blindfolded, I probably couldn't distinguish it from a piece of ordinary tuna steak, grilled until well done, but the fish was very fresh.

My favorite, though, was my piece of uni nigiri. The uni was fresh from San Diego, interestingly, not its better known sea urchin producing neighbor, Santa Barbara. It's nearing the end of uni season, but this stuff was very good, intensely flavored and briny with just a hint of sweetness. The sushi rice was excellent, actually some of the best I've had in the city and certainly on par with what I've had at Yasuda. It was perfectly seasoned to my taste with detectable levels of salt and vinegar, but not sugar. (I think some chefs prefer a blander preparation, but for me, the salt helps highlight flavors in the neta.)

My dining companion ordered a few rolls: the tuna avocado, spicy tuna and kanpachi with scallion. I only tried a piece of the tuna avocado roll and although I wasn't overly impressed, it was competent. The rice was excellent, there was a good ratio of rice to tuna and avocado, tuna was fair and avocado was ripe.

The Little One was heckling to go home at this point, so we skipped dessert (a grapefruit granita). We did manage to toss back glasses of Barbolini Lambrusco (Emilia Romagna, Italy) and a carafe of Densho Yamahai Fukushima Junmai, along with our food, though. The Lambrusco actually went well with our small plates, especially the salty, rich grilled scallop. The junmai was very, very good, a sweet, very fragrant, floral sake that I would've liked to've had much more of had the Little One not been so close to having his own third or fourth dinner.

Overall, we were deeply impressed with the food at this Village newcomer and the baby friendly staff at our 5:45 p.m. dinner. We intend to be back frequently -- at least until it starts getting mobbed by fans... as it ought to be.

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