Whether searching for a new home or scouting addresses for a business, the old adage rings true: location, location, location. The where matters just as much as the what when it comes to real estate.
But it gets complicated, especially when it comes to restaurants in New York: you want to find a space that will guarantee some foot traffic but also avoid somewhere that’s already overcrowded with similar food-related offerings.
The folks behind Nina, a new restaurant that opened in Dumbo last week, hope to have found that delicate balance at 56 Adams Street, a tourist-heavy area that has yet to join the likes of Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Crown Heights and Bed-Stuy when it comes to top-rated dining destinations favored by locals.
“I live here in Dumbo and there are simply not enough options in the area,” says restaurateur Anna Castellani, who previously operated the popular grocery store Foragers Market at the same exact address before the pandemic forced the business to close down. “I said, ‘Let’s open a restaurant’ and started thinking of how we could use the space and what kind of life we wanted to bring to this corner.”
The result is a 162-seat all-day dining destination featuring floor-to-ceiling windows, wooden accents and plants overlooking the street, in addition to two separate bars serving Mediterranean food by Israeli chef Sagi Azrouel.
But it’s the vibe at Nina that deserves most attention. Step into the new restaurant and you’ll suddenly feel at home, as if hosting (or better yet, attending) a giant dinner party with friends and family.
Three stand-out items from the Levantine-leaning menu: the hummus starter, silkier than the average find, but just as flavorful; a relatively simple Israeli salad that packs a just-right salty punch, especially alongside the entrées (the secret ingredient, forgive me chef, is a bit of apple); and the veggie schnitzel, a clever take on a classic meant to appeal to the vegan crowd.
About that crowd
Caetellani insists her new eatery is for locals, by locals.
“There were never enough people living here in Dumbo to maintain restaurants,” admits Castellani before mentioning that statistics have now changed. “It used to be mostly office spaces with some residential ones but now it’s an exclusively residential area with some offices, a fact that allows restaurants to thrive.”
Although a number of eateries call Dumbo home — including chains like Grimaldi’s and Shake Shack as well as the Time Out Market — the neighborhood is hardly a destination spot in culinary circles, despite the beautiful views that have made the enclave a social media staple.
Chef Sagi Azrouel (Delaine Dacko for In Haus)
“I am actually super happy that there aren’t many restaurants around,” says Chef Azrouel. “I feel like it’s a big plus for us because I don’t see any competition and I think that we can make a statement in Dumbo. The neighborhood will appreciate it very much.
Despite the Israeli/Levantine accents, though, the menu isn’t easy to pigeonhole.
“The majority of Israelis are Jewish but they come from all over the world,” he says. “When I say Israeli I mean built out of many cultures: we have a homemade pasta on the menu because we grew up with Italians, and we can make a great burger because Americans call our country home.”
The prices at a recent visit to Nina ran from $6 (pickled veggies) to $19 (tuna kebabs) for starters and $17 (the veggie schnitzel) to $36 (grilled bream) for mains, not unreasonable for a spot that caters to an upwardly mobile demographic.
“People have disposable income but restaurants can reach a point where even for those folks dining out becomes a waste of money,” she says. “We built a menu with that in mind.”
As for the restaurant’s name, it is an ode to Castellani’s own daughter, Nina.
“It also happens to have two little syllables, so it’s a clean and neat name,” says the restaurateur. Just the vibe the new eatery is going for.