Dining in Manhattan can be an adventure—culturally or otherwise. You consider yourself an adventurous foodie type, don’t you? Do you wear your culinary exploits like a badge of honor? Well then, have you ever had an appetizer of salmon carpaccio topped with ice cream or a tomato marshmallow? We didn’t think we’d ever be able to say that either, but after a recent dinner at Melibea, we can say we’ve ate that and from this day forward Mediterranean fare is forever altered.
Bringing contemporary Mediterranean to the next dimension is Chef Jesus Núñez, formerly of Gastroarte on the Upper West Side. With, Baracca, his first collaboration with Hector Sanz of Quimeria Restaurant Group literally down the hallway, Chef Jesus brings the vast and varied cuisine of the Mediterranean coasts to West Village diners. If you think you’re walking in to Melibea for the traditional-looking moussaka, falafel, and lamb dishes you’ve found yourself in the wrong restaurant. Each dish is expertly and artistically plated making the traditional Mediterranean dishes we’ve all come to know and love take on a completely new lease on life. Chef Jesus firmly believes in the philosophy that we eat with our eyes before we eat with our mouths. He achieves this goal by enchanting guests with his use of color, plating design, and the flavors explored. All of Melibea's dishes are prepared with simple Mediterranean ingredients and staples, almost all of which are made in-house. Drawing inspiration from Istanbul, France, his native Spain, and everywhere in between, Chef Jesus creates a diverse menu filled with delicious surprises that leaves diner’s anticipating their following course visually and with forks ready.
The menu, divided into six different courses, features small plate starters to share such as Hummus with beats, boiled egg, herbs, and warm pita, and a rich and silky Foie Terrine with roasted apples and pistachios. The appetizer menu offers diners a truly unique plate that you may think twice about ordering but once you commit you won’t regret it. We're referring to the Salmon and Scallop Carpaccio with almond ice cream and tapenade. Yes, ice cream—this dish is the right combination of sweet, salty, and fish flavors reminiscent to some degree of lox with cream cheese. For something more traditional try the Free Style Pasta with homemade pasta, beef oxtail stew, octopus, roasted fennel, and pearl onions or the Risotto with duck confit and pear. Found on the salad menu, the Study of Tomato is an amazing display of Chef Jesus’ innovative techniques and truly cutting-edge culinary sense. The dish is comprised of several variations of tomato, all beautifully plated and includes dried tomatoes, tomato marshmallows, green tomato puree, tomato skin, and tomato powder.
Entrées steer more toward tradition but still display Chef Jesus’ intuitive presentation. Claiming he didn’t even want to include a chicken dish on the menu Chef Jesus instead created one of most memorable chicken dishes you’ll ever experience. Chicken marinated in Syrian spices with lentils and wild rice, dates, and lemon gravy is so flavorful you’ll practically want to lick the plate clean. Other entrée highlights include a Moroccan Lamb Tajine, a Serrano Ham and Monkfish Roll, and Ossobuco Stew. The desserts are as innovative as the dinner menu and include a Lavender Cream Brulee with golden caramel, raspberries, and rhubarb, a take on Greek baklava called A Thousand and One Nights prepared with dates, saffron, pistachio, honey, phyllo pastry, olive oil cake, and orange blossom ice cream, and Chef Jesus’ decadently chocolaty “final expression,” the Chocolatissimo.
Chef Jesus explained that “the element of surprise is [his] favorite part about cooking for others.” In order to “reinvigorate” the diner’s appreciation of Mediterranean flavors and keeping the element of surprise alive, Chef has started to prepare for his Canvas program. The Canvas, a six-person chef’s table, will be essentially a blank canvas where Chef Jesus is free to create a once in a lifetime dining experience that will both “surprise and inspire [his] guests.” With no two prix fixe menus being the same, diners will be at the complete culinary mercy of Chef Jesus. The program is set to start in late spring and will cost $95 per guest.
For more about Melibea, reservations, the full menu and craft cocktail options, check out their website.
Melibea is located at 2 Bank Street in the West Village