You probably haven’t heard of D.ream, a hospitality group based in Turkey and operating scores of sleek dining hot spots in capitals around the world. Its entries into the U.S. market include Manhattan luxury steakhouse Nusr-Et, home of studly Instagram star-chef Nusret Gökçe (also known as Salt Bae). Nahita, D.ream’s first splash in Boston, recently replaced the former Liquid Art House, completely redoing its expensive design with an equally lavish one. A grand space with a trophy-stocked wine collection, groovy cocktails and a sophisticated, globe-trotting menu, Nahita seems pitched at the crazy-rich jet set. But for those of us who merely dream of casually hopping on an Emirates flight to Dubai for a long weekend, does it merit its sometimes daunting prices?
Chef Efe Onoglu has worked in some storied kitchens (José Andrés, Michael Mina), and his sensibility is novel for Boston: We’ve seen Japanese, nikkei (Japanese-Peruvian) and chifa (Chinese-Peruvian) before, but never crisscrossed with Mexican and Turkish flavors. Good-sized small plates include both Turkish-accented “29 style” grilled meatballs ($19) of subtly spiced beef and lamb atop thick, chewy flatbread, with spikes of acid from blistered tomato and shishito peppers, and the traditional Mexican cheese dip for housemade tortillas that is queso fundido ($16) topped with crumbed chorizo. The smashing Peruvian ensalada solterito ($17) features lightly dressed sliced cukes, radishes, tomatoes, avocado, briny black botija olives and greens with creamy, fresh requesón cheese and crunchy corn nuts. It’s superb.
Nikkei dishes include sashimi-like tiraditos. Over a pool of ocher miso sauce, spicy bluefin tuna and seared otoro tiradito ($26) is architecturally arranged as three glistening oblongs of fatty raw tuna atop slabs of just-seared bluefin, bedecked with garlic chips, microgreens and a stripe of serrano salsa: handsome, fiery and subtle. Sea urchin cebiche ($36) plumbs similar Peruvian waters with an eye-catching array of uni, sprinkled with bits of avocado and Rice Krispies-ish puffed black quinoa, the rich, creamy flesh artfully balanced with a chili-hot, yuzu-tart leche de tigre.
Tacos (two per order) are maybe three or four bites each, and a mixed bag. “Tantuni” spicy beef tenderloin tacos ($12) benefit from warm Turkish spicing and zippily-sour sumac, but the beef is flavorless and dry. Wild mushroom tacos ($12) are more delectable with an earthy umami chew against tomatillo salsa piquancy and cooling goat-cheese crema. Spicy king crab tacos ($29) have a clever wrapper of crisp taro inside a nori sheet, and they’re pleasantly mayonnaisey if lacking heat, but yikes, that price! Generous, photogenic entrees include a chifa-style sudado de pescado ($44), a succulent, steamed whole red snapper, filleted and dressed with red onion and cilantro, marred only by slightly aggressive use of soy sauce in its gingery, aji-chili-kissed broth.
With a fatter expense account, we might have sampled some “for the table” plates ($85-$185, feeding 4-6), tableside-carved head-turners like massive steaks served with tortillas, greens and two sauces—we coveted that mirin/soy marinated whole duck ($85). Finishers include desserts ($3-$36) from pastry chef Thomas Langille and baker Samantha Beauchamp like a simple, sublime scoop of Valrhona bitter chocolate ice cream, though a well-curated five-cheese plate also impressed.
By any account, Nahita ought to succeed as a first-rate drinking destination that happens to serve lots of sexy, grazeable food, something the neighborhood is short on. Veteran beverage manager Charlie Smedile (formerly of Tiki Rock, Uni and Waypoint) is the suave host of a swank nightly party here, leading with terrific specialty cocktails ($12-$17) featuring on-trend culinary accents. For instance, Mad Beets ($15) fizzily combines gin, beet, fennel, caraway-flavored kümmel liqueur, lemon and tonic, while What’s Up Doc? ($14) spikes singani, a Bolivian unaged brandy, with carrot, ginger, lime and club soda. Both cocktails are complex, vegetal, pretty and delicious.
A long list of top-shelf liquors makes stopovers in the Americas (for grape, grain, cane and agave spirits), Japan (whiskies) and Europe (brandies, eaux-de-vie and amari), with most pours under $20 but $80-plus shots not uncommon. There are eight beers ($8) and eight sakes ($12-$15, glass; $36-$87, 300ml; $78-$84, 720ml), useful foils for much of the food here. Wines cleave equally to the Old and New Worlds with 30 by the glass ($11-$68, most under $16) and a 250-strong bottle list, a third of it under $80, but also romping regularly into the four hundreds and beyond.
The tolerably noisy design of the 160-seat dining room/lounge, centered on a comfortably spacious square bar, has a fine, understated grandeur. There’s soaring ceilings and streetside windows, giant columns zooming up to bronze arches, much marble and brown leather, a wildly kinetic jungle mural and a pristine seafood display along the back wall, plus enough ferny greenery to populate a rainforest canopy. The air of steamy, exclusive opulence is reinforced by Fenix, Nahita’s gorgeous, pocket-sized, 1920s-feeling speakeasy hidden down a hallway. Service knows how to cosset its black card-toting customers, with only an occasional halting lack of polish. We ended up thinking of Nahita as the neighborhood’s costlier answer to downtown’s Yvonne’s. It’s similarly lively, clubby and glamorous, boasting a great bar program, but with a decidedly more international vibe. Dress up a little and bring a crowd, only mind what you order, as this soignée stunner could give your wallet a concussion. ◆
“29 style” grilled meatballs
Spicy bluefin tuna and seared otoro tiradito
Sea urchin cebiche
Sudado de pescado chifa
Nahita, 100 Arlington St., Boston (617-457-8130) nahitarestaurant.com; Hours: Lunch, Mon.-Fri., 11:30 am-3 pm; Dinner, Sun.-Wed., 5:30-10 pm, Thu.-Sat., 5:30-11 pm; Liquor: Full; Reservations: Yes; Parking: Nearby lots and garages, metered street spaces