Instead of sitting idle as his restaurants have scaled back operations due to the pandemic, Boca Restaurant Group Owner and Executive Chef David Falk has used the unique time to reinvent his downtown Mexican restaurant, Nada. The dining room closed in March and takeout ceased in June; so when Nada’s doors open again Friday, September 4, guests will find a renovated space—and brand new menu.
When Nada first opened in 2007, it was wildly successful, Falk says, but over the years, he noticed that it no longer seemed so contemporary. That’s because the idea behind Nada was concept-based, he says, not menu-based. “The idea was, How do we create a Mexican restaurant that the girls of “Sex and the City” would want to eat at?” he says. “It’s hilarious now, but back then, it was really cool.”
The problem with basing a restaurant on a concept, Falk says, is “what’s hip and sexy in 2007 is no longer hip and sexy in 2017.” Or 2020. As the years passed and millennials began to come of age, it became clear that their knowledge of Mexican food was greater than previous diners: When Falk told his investors in 2007 that he wanted to open a Mexican restaurant, for example, they “looked at me like I had three eyeballs,” he says, because no one knew about Mexican food. Fast-forward to today, and millennials are much more knowledgeable about the cuisine.
“For the last six years, it’s been haunting me,” Falk says. “What do we do? I’m not trained in Mexican and Latin flavors. I really knew we needed a chef.” Around that time, Falk ate at Bartaco in Nashville and was blown away by the flavors. He told his team, “This is the best Mexican restaurant in the country. How do we do that?”
As Falk began retooling the new concept, he met with Bartaco’s culinary director, Jonathan Rohland, and the two clicked so well that Falk offered him a job as culinary director of the Boca Restaurant Group, which includes Nada, Sotto, and Boca. Falk told Rohland, “Let’s shatter the paradigm. Let’s just create the most kickass concept we can,” and it started with a different way to dine out: What if Nada’s menu was 25 percent large plates and 75 percent small plates? Rohland loved the idea, and he created a menu based on the concept. For the first tasting Falk brought in Nada’s CFO and previous chief operating officer.
“[Rohland] threw down this food, and my old COO is sitting there and saying, This is some of the best food in Cincinnati, hands down,” Falk says. “It’s been a long time since anyone said that about Nada. They were all kinds of stunned. This isn’t Nada 2.0. This is Nada 15.0.”
Falk highlights a few particular menu items, including the crispy Brussels sprouts with chipotle honey, pickled shallot, and candied ancho pepitas; and romanesco al pastor, with achiote, golden raisins, salsa macha, and sweet potato.
Regulars might be surprised at the menu change, especially because people regularly left Nada feeling oh-so full: It was the sort of restaurant where patrons stuffed themselves, then wished they’d worn stretchy pants. To ease those regulars into the new set-up, the menu does have some old favorites, including baja fish tacos, chips and salsa, guacamole, and churros.
Though Falk knows he may lose some loyal fans with the change, he’s confident in the new direction. When he passed the new menu to people to gauge their reactions, he says, they all said the exact same thing: This is how I like to eat. During a tasting in June, one diner told him, “Nada is generally where I come with my parents. But this, I’d be here all the time. I’d eat here before I go out barhopping.”
“That’s exactly what Nada was in 2007, 2008,” Falk says.
In addition to the new menu, Nada has undergone some renovations, including new light fixtures, dining room chairs, and bar tile, according to Yuko Driscoll, director of personnel for Boca Restaurant Group. And a big plus for anyone who’s waited for an outdoor seat: The patio doubled in size, which will help with social-distance guidelines.
“If people are into world-class food,” Falk says, “they’re gonna love this.”
Nada, 600 Walnut St., downtown, (513) 721-6232
Dinner served nightly starting at 4 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday brunch 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.