Here’s the bad news: Nao, the popular contemporary Latin restaurant in the historic Pearl is closing in 2018 after a more than five-year run. Now for the bright side: the Culinary Institute of America (which owns and operates Nao) is busy developing a new concept in the development, which will move into the former home of Andrew Weismann’s much-missed The Sandbar in the fall semester.
According to a release, the unnamed concept is currently being workshopped by CIA students and faculty, but it will have a locavore focus and work closely with Texas farmers and ranchers. CIA also shared that the restaurant will feature a full bar with a curated wine and beer program and an open kitchen to give guests a peek at the behind the scenes action.
This isn’t the first time that the culinary school has retooled the eatery's operation. The restaurant opened in 2012 as Nao: New World Flavors in 2012 under executive chef Geronimo Lopez, a CultureMap Tastemaker Award Best Chef nominee for his work at Peruvian-Asian fusion restaurant Botika, also at the Pearl.
In late 2015, the eatery switched gears from fine dining to embrace a more casual approach. The new focus meant smaller, shareable plates and a new name: Nao Latin Gastro Bar. In June 2017, the CIA simplified the name to just Nao to allow the chefs more flexibility with the Latin American format and to announce a new commitment to live fire cooking.
Although the digs will change, the upcoming restaurant will serve the same purpose as Nao, acting as a lab for the school’s advanced culinary arts and baking and pastry programs which require students to get real world hospitality and cooking experience before graduation.
After the new concept debuts in the fall, San Antonio will get another sweet treat. The CIA Bakery Cafe, which closed its permanent location in 2013 to make way for more classroom space at the school, will move its pop-up series to the Sandbar space beginning in January 2019 with breakfast and lunch service.
As for now, CIA is still confirming the exact dates for Nao’s closure and the new concept's opening.