Of all the places I have been but not blogged about, I was disappointed and kind of ashamed when I realised I had never written about Nuba – the restaurant one on Hastings. I’m sure the cafés (one on East 3rd Ave., one on Seymour St. in Yaletown, and one in the Waldorf Hotel on Commercial) are just as amazing, but for the largest menu and an amazing first experience, I would highly recommend the main restaurant!
Emme and I set out one midweek afternoon specifically in search of Nuba, despite Emme’s great reluctance to venture anywhere near Gastown and Hastings, and actually walked by the entrance a couple of times because we were searching before the clock hit 5 o’clock. Of course, after 5p.m. it’s impossible to miss it when you walk by it. We were lucky to arrive so early, seeing as it seemed that every table was reserved for later that evening, and the waitress could only guarantee us an immediate seat if we left before 7:30p.m. A two-and-a-half hour window for eating dinner is quite generous, so we easily promised to be gone before then.
Nuba has a very cozy feel, which may be in part due to the fact that is partially underground. While achieving a warm and welcoming interior, it still has very tastefully done décor. It is definitely, in my and Emme’s opinions, one of those restaurants that makes you feel like you could just kick back and lounge around, enjoying good food and conversation. (None of that for us that evening, though, of course – what with the ‘time restraint’… and the fact that we were seated at a table instead of a couch!) It is definitely great that they offer different seating selections, though; you can choose to sit and casually enjoy your dinner on couches or take the traditional table route… or, of course, sit at the bar if all the tables are taken or you’re there for drinks rather than awesome food.
And so, speaking of awesome food… Emme and I enjoyed all of the dishes we ordered. That said, however, we didn’t order that many things. One thing I can say about this: our number one mistake that evening was going to Nuba not feeling particularly hungry. We had both had big lunches, and weren’t too hungry only a couple hours later. Although, considering the prices, this might be a good thing. Considering how fantastic the food was that night, this was a bad thing.
Emme ordered a hot appetizer or mezze that was a special of the day: a Beef Tenderloin steak that came with hummus and pita on the side. I’m not sure – and not sure Emme is either – about what exactly was on top, but the crunchy topping was a wonderful accompaniment to the most tender cut of steak Emme has supposedly ever had. The swirled sauce was unexpectedly sweet, but somehow perfectly matched the ‘gamey’ taste of the meat. Her only complaint was that the portion was so small for the price, but it was an appetizer… and Nuba is definitely not a cheap place to eat for dinner. The hummus that was on the side was intended for dipping with the warm, toasty pita pieces that came with the meal, was what we both attacked when the plates initially came. We are hummus lovers.It lived up to our expectations, which are typically quite high for hummus. It is such a simple dip to make, but Nuba definitely did it justice.
I didn’t help Emme with her hummus for long (she didn’t need me to, either; it was so good that she easily polished it off by herself), since my salad arrived. I love salad, but the one thing I would berate myself for this time would be: why would you get a salad at such a great restaurant?! That is my regret. There are so many other appealing and wondrous-sounding dishes at Nuba that take more preparation and are a better display of how great the restaurant is. Yes, the salad was fantastic and the toasty pita topping was lovely, the veggies were crunchy and fresh, and the garlic-lemon-herb dressing was perhaps the best salad dressing I’ve ever tasted… but there are better ways to spend your money here! It was a Fattoush Salad, by the way, and still thoroughly enjoyed even though I regretted getting it instead of something more complex that couldn’t be imitated in a personal, home kitchen.
I also ordered something off the ‘hot mezze’ menu: Sea Scallops. The names of dishes on the menu are definitely straightforward and simple, but… don’t be fooled. I actually like menus that are upfront about what the dish is, as opposed to throwing in a bunch of adjectives and other flowery descriptive but unnecessary phrases. Despite the simplicity of the menu, the dishes are wonderfully complex and hit a range of taste points on your tongue all at once… like the beef tenderloin, for example – sweet, savoury, salty. The texture of the food is also amazing. So it goes without saying that these scallops were also better than I could have hoped for. I still love the simplest preparation, of course (hotate sashimi, or raw cuts of scallops!), but this was… superb. I’m running out of words like ‘amazing’, ‘great’, etc. for this post… Anyway. This dish was an awesome mixture of subtly sweet flavors from the scallops, a hint of spice from the paprika and coriander crust, and a lovely combo of nutty and savory flavors from the walnut and sesame oil dressing. The scallops were perfectly cooked. I. Loved. It. Were it not so pricy, I would order it again and again… (But like I said before – there are so many other promising dishes on the menu, so I would only get this again as a special treat!)
We were obviously not regular patrons to the restaurant, but that of course did not affect the service we received – which was fantastic, just like the food. There is not much more to say beyond that; our waitress was super polite, patient, knew the menu well, and enjoyed explaining the restaurant’s background to us when we asked about its origins (and why it chose its location). Even if you didn’t make a reservation, you till receive top-of-the-line treatment and a memorable dining experience.
The only downside is the prices, but for what you get, Emme and I both think that a trip to Nuba is completely worth it. Definitely a must-try if you’re in the area… and a must-try even if you’re not!
Value: 3 (expensive but worth it!)