RESTAURANTS • First Word
The Skinny: Naks is a hands-on ode to Filipino food from the boundary-pushing team behind Semma and Dhamaka.
The Vibe: The restaurant is small, with just 34 seats split between the front bar area and back dining room. A long kitchen connects the rooms, along with vibrant decor — 3D-ceramic tiles on the illuminated bar and rice-basket light fixtures and an earthy, green-toned mural in the dining room.
The Food: Each of Naks’ two spaces offer a separate dining format. Up front there’s a concise à la carte menu with dishes like fish sauce-spiked fried chicken and silbot spice-flavored beef testicle soup (above). Cocktails also feature ingredients not often seen on NYC lists, like forbidden rice syrup and miso. In the back, a nine-course, $135 kamayan (which translates to "to eat with hands") menu.
Naks isn’t white-tablecloth dining (in fact, there’s a banana leaf covering each table) and utensils are optional, but the first few bites of Manila-born chef Eric Valdez’s menu — which include an egg, top removed, duck jus and coconut vinegar broth inside, and a baby uni tart made from a corn and rice shell that’s accented with more coconut vinegar — are more refined than your environs might let on.
Communal, family-style dishes round out the meal. The best plate of the night: an utterly perfect pork belly lechon with crisp, glistening skin that looks as though it was lacquered in clear glossy nail polish. It’s accompanied by a bundle of banana leaf-wrapped steamed white rice and two salads: one with bitter gourd and the other a mix of chopped up bamboo shoots.
The Verdict: Unique, flavorful, and unapologetically Filipino, Naks is breaking new ground in the East Village. –Kat Odell