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Join Nao for Some Savory New Culinary Adventures

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Plenty is happening these days at Nao, the Culinary Institute of America’s restaurant on the San Antonio campus.

Nao's Venezuelan Siete Potencias, or Seven Powers

Nao’s Venezuelan Siete Potencias, or Seven Powers

The restaurant at 312 Pearl Parkway is showcasing the foods of Venezuela as its latest culinary adventure. Plus, it’s hosting a dinner with a chef who graduated from the school and has his own cookbook out.

The series has drawn a large following from the local community, chef Geronimo Lopez said, with about 40 percent of all dinners ordered being the culinary special.

Venezuela holds a special connection for Lopez because that is his homeland. “Venezuela is a large country and a rich melting pot,” he said. “Venezuela’s cuisine draws from the Caribbean, the Andes and the Amazon. These make up the colors and flavors that invite you to savor life.”

He’s been pleased to be able to find many of the ingredients at local supermarkets as well as the international markets that serve the city’s increasingly diverse population. It’s far different from previous years, such as when he lived in Paris, and he had to make seemingly endless substitutes whenever he tried to make a Venezuelan dish.

Venezuelan cuisine was heavily influenced by Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and French settlers as well as African and Native American traditions. It is a diet rich in seafood with plantains, yucca and beans as well as chicken and beef.

Geronimo Lopez

Geronimo Lopez

The dishes on his menu include the Caracas-style Chicken Polvorosa, a chicken pot pie with sweet and spicy flavors; Red Snapper Paraguito Frito, in which the crispy fish is served with plantain tostones and a touch of coleslaw; and Butterflied Sirloin Santa Barbara with queso fresco, diced avocado and yuca fries. Siete Potencias, or Seven Powers, Seafood Cocktail features shrimp, conch, mussels and clams as well as the sweet pepper aji dulce, onion, tomato and crisp plantain chips.

Dessert is Bienmesabe, a Venezuelan type of tres leche made with an airy coconut genoise, pastry cream, and meringue brûlée.

Lopez is happy to have found his favorite Venezuelan rum, Diplomatico, which has been barrel-aged for 10 years, much like a scotch, he said. Nao’s beverage director, Tim Bryand, has used the tea-colored liquor in a cocktail he created called Rio Caribe, which also features pineapple, lime, honey and Angosturra Bitters.

A special three-course menu featuring these dishes is available for $42 until July 7.

Chef Adan Medrano, author, book-signing

On June 19, Nao and the Twig Book Shop will be co-hosting a dinner featuring chef Adán Medrano, a graduate of the San Antonio CIA and author of the new cookbook, “Truly Texas Mexican.” The evening will include a book-signing and reception as well as a three-course dinner featuring dishes from the book.

A CIA student at work at Nao.

A CIA student at work at Nao.

“I am quite enthused about partnering with Chef Geronimo Lopez and the team at Nao because they understand the international taste dimensions of cuisines of the Americas,”  Medrano said. “I’m looking forward to meeting each of the guests and sharing perspectives on their dining experience. I am so proud to collaborate with the progressive, cutting edge kitchen of Nao as Chef Lopez is a brilliant chef who takes deliciousness to new levels.”

The book signing and reception will be in the Nao lounge from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. with wine and passed hors d’oeuvres, including Smoked Trout with Chipotle-Yerbaniz Mayonnaise; Albóndigas de Chile Ancho; and Flor de Calabaza Rellena con Frijol y Chorizo.

The dinner begins at 6:45 p.m. with a duo of mini-gorditas featuring Nopalitos con Camarón and Frijoles Refritos with Queso Fresco. The meal will continue with Chile Relleno Lampreado served with Arroz con Cilantro. Dessert is a Watermelon Ice with Blueberries served with Hojarascas.

“Adán captures the essence of Mexican influence and heritage, and we are excited to have him take us on a journey to the deep Mexican roots of Texas,” Lopez said.

Tickets are priced at $80 per person and include a signed copy of “Truly Texas Mexican,” the recepion and the three-course dinner. All dinner proceeds go to the not-for-profit CIA. For reservations, call 210-554-6484.

Those who deep-dive into behind-the-scenes restaurant news may have seen that the CIA is advertising for a faculty member to oversee the restaurant. Does that mean Lopez is leaving? No, he said, explaining that managing the restaurant is done a rotational basis, so he will still be a part of the San Antonio campus, but he will have other duties.

 

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