Chef Maximillian Nazabal brings his west coast roots to the kitchen of the recently opened Rock & Reilly’s Irish Pub located at the Renaissance New York Midtown Hotel. This new outpost of the upscale gastrobar features a menu unique to the New York City location. Its signature Irish Nachos, complete with Irish Cheddar, house-made kettle chips, and peppered bacon, is the only item shared amongst the three Rock & Reilly’s locations (one in Los Angeles and the other in Park City).
Nazabal has come a long way from since his football playing days in college, back when he says his diet mainly consisted of Taco Bell. As a native of Oakland, CA, his first job in the restaurant business was as a dish washer for the iconic San Francisco restaurant, Cha Cha Cha. It was there that he discovered the thrill of working in a restaurant. He describes this as similar to the rush of preparing for a big game.
His love of cooking has taken him from the west coast to the east, and has included longer culinary stints in Chicago and North Carolina. Nazabal, who was mentored by famed “Pit Master” Ed Mitchell, graduated from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts Las Vegas. He describes his cooking style as heavily influenced by his Spanish roots, as well as, a mix of Cuban and French cuisines.
With a large selection of dishes as diverse and detailed-oriented as Rock & Reilly’s, it’s pretty clear that chef Nazabal, along with his four sous chefs, exhibit both talent and commitment to preparing good food. With a rotating seasonal menu, chef Nazabal only uses the best ingredients from within a 50 mile radius of New York City. Moreover, none of the animals are farm raised.
Embodying his philosophy of taking the best flavors of all ingredients to create something awesome, Rock & Reilly’s menu has a big array of savory, indulgent dishes. The menu offers items pastas, fish, steaks, specialty burgers and sandwiches, chilled seafood bites, salads and soups, flatbreads, shared plates, and of course, massive desserts.
Shared plates offer an eclectic variety of dishes that range from more common appetizers like chicken wings with a burnt scallion bbq sauce and dry aged beef burgers; to innovative items such as cheeseburger spring rolls; a cast iron octopus with a saffron & fennel vinaigrette; and an incredible charcuterie board presented with an assortment of meats like rabbit rillette (I had never eaten rabbit before, but enjoyed it), satisfyingly salty copa, and pork pate, alongside a nice selection of pungently tasty cheese.
Fresh sea plates include a citrusy, halibut ceviche and a melt-in-your-mouth scallop crudo with celery leaf and pretty watermelon radish slices. Lighter fare includes several salads, such as the “garbage” salad which comes with salami, shrimp, a mix of veggies, and a white balsamic vinaigrette. For those looking at the sharable flatbreads can select from choices like the buffalo chicken with Point Reyes blue cheese or the Turkish lamb with roasted zucchini and squash.
Carnivores will love the “off the grill” meats which are brilliantly cooked. For example, Nazabal took five years to perfect a Dijon mustard marinade. It paid off; I almost didn’t believe it was skirt steak, it was that flavorful and tender. And if you’re really going all in, order the 28 oz bone-in Tomahawk rib eye.
Pastas such as the pappardelle bolognese is filled with a meaty mix of veal, pork, and pancetta, while the mac and cheese is kicked up a notch with lobster. Heavy hitters on the menu are the big plates; each dish exhibits a unique complexity of ingredients and flavor. On the fish side, Nazabal offers a grilled branzino with a braised escarole and white bean stew; and the buttery, flaked roasted halibut, which comes beautifully plated with roasted beet accents pea shoots and micro greens.
The brick chicken, comes with a garlic confeit and garlic mash is a solid choice for those looking for poultry. Furthermore, the pork chop is highly recommended. With a slightly sweet, apple slaw and a celery root puree, this chop is seasoned to perfection. Nazabal played with how to cook this piece of deliciousness 25 times before settling. Nailed it.
Nazabal, a California native (as am I), knows that In-N-Out does burgers right. Granted, there’s always room for improvement. “Animal style” fans get ready to be blown away by Nazabal’s “gorilla style” mammoth of a juicy burger. This normally comes with two patties; however, those in the know (check out his Instagram) have the chance to beast on a 4×4. Yes, four patties. Special sauce. Pickles. Bacon. Cheese. Grilled onions. Need I continue?
If you’re one of the few who has room for dessert after eating a full course meal here, congrats. Desserts are huge, decadent, sweet, and 100 percent worth any regret you may feel after eating it all. Dessert champions need to order the giant vanilla bean-peanut butter ice cream burger. Enclosed in the huge, fresh, glazed beignet-doughnut hybrid is a mountain of vanilla bean ice cream, crunchy peanut butter, peanut brittle, and peanut butter cups.
For classic cookie lovers, Nazabal bakes a chewy, warm, chocolate chunk filled cookie served in a skillet, piled with scoops of ice cream and doused in whipped cream. Don’t like peanuts? Allergic to chocolate? There’s a creamy, smooth, Nilla wafer filled banana pudding that rivals that of Magnolia’s. Lastly, if you want wash down your dessert with dessert (I did) then order the Horchata milkshake. For those who think it’s weird, you’re wrong; this shake is a Cinnamony, buttery, vanilla ice cream blended, thick concoction, that comes with a whipped cream cap and a cherry on top.
Chef Nazabal did a ridiculously excellent job stuffing me with all the greatest hits from the menu. His creativity and dedication to his craft, is made apparent with every bite. That said if you’re on a diet, or trying to “be healthy,” don’t come here unless you have the willpower of a superhero.