Located at the buzzy Pearl complex, Nao Latin Gastro Bar is a re-imagining of sorts of Nao New World Flavors. With a new name and tighter focus, Nao is getting even more creative with traditional Latin American cuisine.
The new concept for the signature restaurant of the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) campus was unveiled in early November. Weekend service from the outdoor kitchen was carried over from the old Nao, and since then, operating hours have been expanded and the menu has undergone plenty of tweaks.
“Nao pays tribute to the gastronomy of Latin America,” says Fernando Salazar, CIA-San Antonio managing director. “Our culinary team has developed a menu of authentic dishes from Latin America but with modern culinary techniques and creative twists.”
Salazar also explains that the bar at Nao is even more tied into the main food menu.
“Our bar team has put together a well-curated list of wines from Latin America with a sprinkling of wines from the Texas Hill Country as well as a list of cocktails created by our capable resident mixologists utilizing spirits from various parts of Latin America,” Salazar says.
In other words, the gastro bar gives equal importance to the food and drinks, according to general manager Abraham Rubio. “When we do the menu, we make sure each food item and drink blend so we have a perfect product pairing between cuisine and beverage,” he adds.
Chef Zach Garza explains that Nao strives to represent a broad range of ingredients and traditions from past and present Latin America. “The whole concept is Pan Latin — Mexico, Chile, and everything in between,” he says.
The lunch menu includes seafood cazuela and duck breast skewers with citrus adobo. Brunch patrons can dine on roasted red bird chicken, complete with carrots, celery, apple, green beans, and raisins or spiced Latin toast with milk-soaked pullman, plantains, River Whey cajeta, and bacon.
Dinner offerings include stone soup with shrimp, seafood broth, serrano pepper and cilantro, and octopus chicharron (yes, it’s octopus prepared like a traditional chicharron). There is also roasted whole pumpkin to be had with fall vegetables, wilted greens, and creamy vegetable broth.
Garza adds that Nao sources many local ingredients, which is important for customers who want to be socially aware and eat healthy. “Americans are becoming more aware of where their food comes from. The average diner is more educated,” he adds.
Nao is also a place of learning for CIA students, who prep lunch before the professionals handle dinner. “It’s your last opportunity to hone your skills before you get thrown to the wolves,” Garza jokes.
Nao is now open Tuesday through Saturday for lunch and dinner. The outdoor kitchen is open 9 am to 1 pm on Saturday and 10 am to 2 pm on Sunday. Brunch is served Sunday from 10 am to 4 pm. Monday dinner service is scheduled to start February 8.
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