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Emilia by Nai
Photograph: Courtesy of Kathryn Sheldon

A self-trained chef opens his third NYC restaurant next week

Emilia by Nai is Galicia—and grandma—inspired.

Amber Sutherland-Namako
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Amber Sutherland-Namako
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Many formally-trained chefs aspire to own their own restaurant, and Nai Restaurant Group owner Ruben Rodriguez is poised to launch his third in the East Village next week. Self-trained Rodriguez’s first independent operation was Nai in 2010, followed by Amigo by Nai in 2020. Emilia by Nai will begin service on Wednesday, June 8. 

The new First Avenue spot has a focus on seafood and vegetables influenced by Galicia, where Rodriguez is from and where he cooked in his mother’s own restaurant, and by his grandmother, for whom Emilia is named. Planned small plates from the seaside include dressed-up oysters, monkfish liver mousse with fried brioche, kalamata marmalade and pickled daikon, shrimp croquettes and a red snapper crudo. A Jerusalem artichoke escabeche with a soy cured egg and rainbow carrots in a red curry glaze with crunchy quinoa and grapefruit are among the veggie options. 

Emilia by Nai
Photograph: Courtesy of Kathryn Sheldon

Wine-based cocktails like ​​The Persistence of a Memory with two types of sherry, pandan, chocolate, coconut bitters and espresso and the Central Park Carousel with vermouth, yuzushu, cava, raspberry, lime, ginger and bitters populate the drink list. Coffee Project New York will operate the space earlier in the day from 7:30am to 3:30pm, serving a custom blend, plus baked goods and breakfast sandwiches. 

Emilia’s dining room seats 40 with room for more outdoors. Its interior design aims to evoke private residences in Galicia. An open kitchen is surrounded by counter seats, cozy alcoves, pops of greenery and sandy hues. Nai Restaurant Group plans to open a fourth venture in the coming months. 

Emilia by Nai is located at 174 First Avenue. It opens daily for breakfast and lunch from 7:30am-3:30pm and for dinner Wednesday-Sunday from 5pm to 11pm on Wednesday, June 8. 

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