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Latin flavors conquer the C.I.A.

Photo: Photos by Steven Gilmore, License: N/A

Photos by Steven Gilmore

Nao's slow-roasted pork belly.

Photo: , License: N/A

Snapper tikin xic grilled in banana leaves


Seafood appears in several guises at Nao. Diverging from the more common shrimp preparation, the aguachile is rendered with cubes of mahi-mahi; it's a move that makes for more forthright fish flavors, and it works. Beautifully grilled baby octopus mojo isleño comes to you over wilted arugula accompanied by a nutty cilantro pesto and a few artful dabs of a curry "mayo." This works, too. The more ambitious "main" that was snapper tikin xic, grilled in banana leaves, did not come together perfectly, however. This traditional Yucatecan recipe counts on rusty-red achiote paste and bitter orange juice for its impact, and though the color was right, the flavors seemed pallid, the texture was somewhat pasty, and the accompaniments didn't click. Rubbed pork belly to the rescue.

It may be time to declare a moratorium on this popular product, but before doing so, try it here if it remains on the menu. The "South Caribbean spice" and piloncillo glaze teamed up to make an already lush product even more decadent; a contrastingly sharp salad of peppery watercress struggled mightily to blunt the belly fat just a bit but lost the battle. Some causes are simply hopeless, no matter how well-intentioned.

Many of the C.I.A.'s also-lush pastries can be sampled at the casual bakery café around the corner, and you are encouraged to do so. But the desserts at Nao have a more distinctly Latin bent. Xoconostle, a sour relative of the blandly sweet prickly pear most often mixed with margaritas in these parts, is used in a salad dressing elsewhere on the menu, but it can also be stewed in a syrup to yield a very intriguing confit, especially good when paired with a sorbet of another unusual fruit, guanabana, and accessorized with toasted angel food cake. No dull sailing for this nao.

Nao: New World Flavors

312 Pearl Parkway, Ste 2104
(210) 554-6484
ciarestaurants.com
Best Bets Try any of the ceviches, picadillo in crisp plantain cones, slow-roasted pork belly ... or just close your eyes and point
Hours 5-10pm, Tues-Sat Prices $$-$$$

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