224 E. Main St., Patchogue
SERVICE: Sweet but under-informed
AMBIENCE: Tropical hangout with neon walls, risque murals and blasting music, as well as uneven temperature control
ESSENTIALS: Open Tuesday to Saturday 5 to 10 p.m., Friday 4 to 11 p.m., Saturday 3 to 11 p.m., Sunday 3 to 9 p.m. Credit cards accepted; parking lot (and entrance) in rear; wheelchair accessible
As Patchogue has runneth over with restaurants, one spot just outside downtown stood out for both its eccentricity and talent: Toro Tapas & Tequila, where chef Andres Molina’s paprika-dusted octopus, pulpo a la gallega, was superb. So, too, were the cocktails.
One cannot live on pulpo alone, though. Or, at least, a restaurant can’t, as owner Ariel Bonilla concluded last fall. Concerned that Toro had become too much of a special-occasion place, Bonilla gave Toro a new identity this winter: Nahcho Papi. The pulpo is gone, as are most tapas; nachos take a leading role, backed by quesadillas, tacos and lesser-known dishes from Peru (Molina graduated from Le Cordon Bleu in Lima in 2016).
In contrast to Toro’s rustic vibe, Nahcho Papi is full-on Technicolor — aqua and hot pink walls decorated with sometimes cheeky murals, such as a vintage Playboy cover and a collage of Jeff Goldblum faces in a bathroom. The best seat in the house is a comfy window banquette situated between the bar and the dining room, where you can watch both spaces (as well as the kitchen) while avoiding the sensory onslaught of blowing heat and blaring music in the dining room.
Nahcho Papi’s cocktails are still on point: A CBD-laced margarita is tart and balanced, and its effects descend on you like a soft cloud. It’s one of several CBD cocktails, which distinguishes Nahcho Papi among Long Island bars. And that’s what Nahcho Papi feels like now: A relaxed place to chill out with some drinks and sometimes giant portions of oil-soaked bar food.
For instance, the greasy fried dough of empanadas dwarfs the meatball inside each. Order a ceviche mixto, and it may come with a verbal warning. “It’s not what you might expect,” said a server. “It’s crispy.”
That is definitely true: Nuggets of fried calamari frame the ceviche — tilapia, slivered red onions and tomatoes in a slick of lime juice and oil. The juxtaposition between crispy-crunchy and tart-sour was unusual but gratifying.
Servers are sweet but seem only half tuned-in; asking plenty of questions may avoid surprises. After the ceviche, a meatball appetizer followed suit: Plated in a thin tomato sauce and showered with shredded, unmelted cheese, they were nearly raw in the middle — an intentional move, a server confirmed, but an inedible move, too.
Colossal portions of house tortilla chips are the blank canvas for nachos, but the proportions seem slightly off kilter; a vegetable version is ginormous for $11 and drenched in diced, roasted vegetables — including zucchini and eggplant — but the veil of melted cheese was too sparse, so that many chips remained bare. A pork belly version outshone it, though the meat was unevenly cooked.
Seafood soup is a welcome oasis of sour tomato broth heaped with mussels and shrimp, akin to bouillabaisse. Another well-rendered dish can double as starter or main course: Tacos, three to an order, served on floured tortillas and slicked with aioli. The fried tilapia in one version was perfectly coppery and crisp; the shrimp in another had an audible snap.
The kitchen turns out two versions of the Peruvian fried rice arroz chaufa, a sort of chunkier version of Cantonese-style fried rice with plenty of scallions, hunks of sausage and very moist chicken. It’s low on heat and glistening with fat, though too much so.
More Chinese-Peruvian fusion comes in the form of lomo saltado, a comfort-food goulash of tender skirt steak stir-fried with peppers, tomatoes and onions in a savory brown gravy that’s spooned over chunky fries — fries that could’ve cooked longer. Churrasco steak, conversely, is peppery but tough; the caramelized plantains alongside its most alluring feature.
A creamier version of garlic shrimp has survived the changeover, and it’s tangy in all the right ways. Shrimp meet a crueler fate in the seafood paella, at $38 the most expensive thing on the menu. It appears with a flourish, sizzling on an iron skillet that’s also dense with mussels, but everything was harshly overcooked — the rice burning on bottom.
When weekend bands and DJs fill the space and CBD cocktails and nachos are flowing, Nahcho Papi is probably in its element. For longer, more traditional meals, tread gingerly.