“I wanted to go back to cooking and what I love to do,” remarked executive chef and owner, Fernando Navas, of newly-opened Balvanera Restaurant on New York City’s Lower East Side. Navas has had a career many chefs can only dream of - he’s worked in Nobu in Miami, Il Bulli in Spain, and Sushi Samba in New York.
He began his culinary career in Miami and traveled extensively throughout Europe before returning to Nobu. After successful stints there and at Sushi Samba, he gained the corporate experience he needed to start his own restaurant to recreate the food that his grandfather taught him how to cook.
Growing up in Argentina, Navas learned how to blend South American and Italian cuisines. “On the weekends, if we didn’t have a roast or an asada, then we had pasta,” he explained. The menu at Balvanera is an ode to that cooking he grew up with, incorporating some new dishes and ingredients with a traditional approach.
Navas opened Balvanera in August on the Lower East Side, taking over the space that was formerly Azul, a restaurant devoted to the same Argentinean traditions. The décor is something exceptional as Navas, with help from friends and family, crafted the entire interior design on his own, creating a home-like atmosphere that begs customers to come, sit and stay for a while.
While there might be some culinary similarities to Azul, Navas explained that his menu has a variety of different options. For those who don’t eat meat, there are pescetarian and vegetarian dishes to please all palates. Creations like the King salmon crudo with lemon skin puree, pickled black radish, avocado oil, and sea salt are light and refreshing. The Ensalada de Quinoa is a healthier take on a heartier dish you might find on a traditional menu in Buenos Aires – it’s filled with warm red quinoa, grilled corn garbanzo beans, and lime.
For carnivores seeking a feast, there are more than enough items to satisfy the craving. I sampled the Entrana, the 10 oz. skirt steak served with fresh chimi, salsa criolla, and papas fritas. If you ask the knowledgeable staff at Balvanera, they’ll suggest exceptional wine pairings for the fare that goes way beyond red meat and Malbec.
The ingredients are sourced from local purveyors whenever possible, Navas said. His early mornings at the fish market ensure that his fish is the freshest possible when he’s ready to serve it. It’s important for Navas to establish long-term relationships with the purveyors that will in turn only help the final product. As for the wine list, it will start small and hope to grow to roughly 88 Argentinean wines along with wines from throughout all of South America.