There are basically two reactions to the news that Nuteria, a Nutella-devoted restaurant, opened in Brooklyn last week, and I heard both of them within minutes of stepping into the little space in Park Slope. The first, from a woman in a red jacket and a blue scarf, who stepped into the door to read their menu with a sense of wonder: “This is weird.” The second, from a little boy who ran from his mother’s side to snag a sample of a waffle slathered with the chocolate hazelnut spread: “YUM, NUTELLA ”
Which is to say, how you feel about Nuteria pretty much boils down to how you feel about Nutella. The idea of a restaurant devoted to exploring one ingredient isn’t unusual, but normally those items are a larger category: Fish, say, or pasta. Limiting the palette of a restaurant to what pairs nicely with Nutella seems more radical, more niche, more perfectly Brooklyn. Like, say, the all-mayonnaise shop just a few blocks further east. When the minds behind Nuteria (originally Nutelleria, but changed, one assumes, to avoid a lawsuit) first announced that they were transforming a storefront in Park Slope to a temple of all things Nutella, eyebrows in the culinary world were raised: Would there be Nutella sandwiches? Nutella tacos? Nutella soup?
As it turns out, definitely not. Nuteria reads mostly as a cafe with a theme. Along the walls and floor are every conceivable size of Nutella jar, including a gallon-sized one used to prop open the door. The space is fairly small: There’s just enough room for some high stools at a counter and a small kitchen. It’s a cheerful, cozy little space. The walls are painted red; on one side of the room is a replica of the Mona Lisa with “Where Brooklyn At?” scrawled on it, graffiti-style.
The menu is, as you imagine, mostly things that taste good with Nutella. Those include waffles, pretzel rolls, pound cake, croissants, toast, muffins, and three different kinds of crepes. All of the pastry items are gluten-free. To any of them, you can add an extra dollop of Nutella whipped cream, nuts, bananas, or strawberries. There’s also a list of hot drinks, your standard coffee offerings plus a selection of Italian sodas and Nutella hot chocolate. Previous reports mentioned that you could buy a straight spoonful of the stuff for $1 a pop, but I didn’t see any mention of it on the menu.
I asked the woman behind the counter what item I should order for the maximum possible Nutella experience. “A lot of people go for the waffle with bananas and nuts,” she said. I sampled a bit of the waffle and, though a decent vehicle for Nutella, it didn’t seem to quite convey the intense flavor that I was hoping from a place that, you know, is essentially an obsessive monument to the glory of chocolate-hazelnut. So I ordered a Nutella hot chocolate with Nutella whipped cream, expecting to be walloped straight in the tastebuds. It wasn’t exactly so: The Nutella hot chocolate was well balanced, not sickly sweet, but also not the thick, Jacques Torres-level drinking chocolate experience. The whipped cream added another sugary element, but was subtler than I imagined it to be.
Here is the flaw of Nuteria: Nutella is not an item that they’re actually creating. The Nutella is not made in-house, and, indeed, it would be detrimental to the concept if it were. Nuteria seems like an odd idea not because it’s devoted to one dish or ingredient, but because it serves as a monument to a manufactured product. And other than the Nutella hot chocolate and whipped cream, it isn’t like Nuteria is actually integrated the Nutella into their baked offerings, or presenting new and spectacular ways to integrate chocolate spread into dishes. As of now, their menu is essentially just adding accoutrements to something you can pick up in a jar. It’s like having a cafe with a menu based on Heinz ketchup. The focus of the whole enterprise just seems off. But if you’re a Nutella fanatic, that probably won’t bother you much. You’ll probably be too busy eating.