Nopa....a first date revisited
Seems like the SO and I have been together like 10,12,15 feels like 20 years. Sometimes in those instances you like to go out and do things. In this case why not return to a spot where we had one of our fist dates, which brought us full circle to Nopa. It opened to some minor fanfare over a decade ago and in the beginning, you could waltz in pretty easily and get a table or for us, we snagged a seat at the bar facing the kitchen to watch the chef and cooks do their thing. (Something I highly recommend at any restaurant that has those kinds of spots)
Over the years the place has grown in popularity and settled in nicely as the go to neighborhood eatery for tasty food and drinks. Snagging a table as a walk in now is not quite as easy as it used to be but we decided to try anyway. We took a different tactic and went on a Sunday when they first opened. Even on this day it was booked solid and I could tell the place would be jumping in an hour or so. However, going when a place opens you can usually get seated somewhere as inevitably there are reservation no-shows (which is sad) but good for us as it only took a few sips of wine at the bar and about 20 minutes before we were knee deep in reading the menu. And as predicted, they were packed.
Last time we were here I wasn't writing about food on a regular basis, I was just consuming it like normal people. Thus, I have vague reminisces of exactly what we had, but seem to recall it was good at the time. The one dish I did remember from before was the flatbread and over the years, the item has remained on the menu in some form and become a signature dish for them. Why not start there.
The spicy fennel sausage flatbread with blue cheese cream and red onion. Technically this is flatbread all gussied up. Technically it also a form of pizza and we are never going to say no to that! This is actually kind of I would prefer pizza anyway, a thin and crisp crust which stays crispy in the presence of toppings. It is like an elevated cracker and akin to many of the types of pizzas I had in a trip to Italy many years ago. Spicy sausage, some crispy broccoli and the tang of the blue cheese, which to be honest, I might have liked a little more of since I personally can never have enough cheese on something. Bite for bite it was pretty tasty and a nice start to the meal.
We followed it up with lamb meatballs in a spicy tomato sauce with squash, shaved pecorino and buttered toast. You get three decent sized meatballs but I have always wondered why in many restaurants you get an odd number of things in appetizer plates. Hmmm, it's almost as if they want you get more to share equally or something. Moist and juicy for sure, though the sauce wasn't all that spicy and the toast was hard and crumbly crunchy. I guess I liked them, I just wasn't wow best meatballs ever kind of thing. Especially since they will run you $18 which seemed a little steep for the size of the dish. Kind of like the flatbread above. It was also $18 which seems like a lot when comparing portion size to a similar type of say pizza at some places. I'd say it isn't just the crowds that have gotten bigger at Nopa over the years.
I think we decided somewhere along the way to sort of unknowingly small plate the dinner and continued the trend with roasted squash, pepitas and drizzled in a maple glaze. It was a mix of yellow squash and pumpkin, very harvest. The inside of the squash and pumpkin was soft, though, the skin on some was a bit tough and bitter. The glaze was lite, but very sweet and this came off almost like a Thanksgiving sweet potato thing. All it needed was some marshmallows. The pepitas (pumpkin seeds) did add crunch so it was all soft mash. While it is a personal flavor choice, I'm not the biggest fan of maple and might have liked this a tad more with honey. As is, it was hearty and enough for two to share but not sure I would order again.
Into each life a little green must come and what better way than with fried brussels sprouts mixed with a little quince jam and pomegranate seeds. It is a giant serving and could probably serve as an entree if all you want it sprouts. I'll guess that is a justification for the cost on these. These are more lightly fried and still have crunch in them along with the seeds. The quince jam reminded me a little of balsamic vinegar, slightly sweet with just a hint of tang. They are good, but still hard to wrap my head and wallet around the cost.
We did decide to get one of the entrees and with all the veggies, a burger and fries seemed a good trade off. (that's called rationalization in our food world) It isn't the biggest of burgers and getting bacon or cheese on it will run you an extra $2 each for it. It does come with fries at least and a decent sized serving of them. The burger seemed more like a giant meatball in shape and props for cooking it to the correct medium rare with some reddish pink. It was super juicy and the two slices of bacon, while not exactly crisp, where enough to give the smoky hickory flavor addition with each bite. Still, I'll say again, not the biggest of burgers considering price, though sadly, it seems this is what it has come to in mid-range neighborhood restaurants these days. I did like the pimento aioli it came with for fry dipping though it worked just as well on the burger.
Nopa is one of those spots which has struck a chord with their food that people like and gravitate too from the neighborhood and around the city. Something a number of hood spots seem to be struggling with. Diners there also don't seem to mind the cost of things which are on the high side in my budget, though it appears this is what passes for a mid-range cost restaurant these days. Since we were here on a special occasion, I'll give the cost a pass as that is the kind of spot this is for me. Pretty sure I couldn't afford this as my own multiple times a week neighborhood dine out place. The food is good and continues to be on the whole local, organic, etc model and people love it enough in spite of cost that it really doesn't matter what my little blog thinks.
Either way, I will maintain fond memories of the place as a first date spot that turned into a so far multi year thing. And as long as that brings good thoughts, I'm good too.