Throughout their careers, Piattino and Lovejoy Bakers owners Ajay Narayan and Paresh Warke have dabbled in a wide array of cuisines. Between the two of them, they’ve cooked in Michelin-starred kitchens in France, hotels in the Caribbean, homes in Bangalore, restaurants in Mumbai. So instead of choosing one cuisine for their new restaurant, they decided to try to capture them all.
“The idea is, what is the ‘tapa’ for any culture?” Narayan says. For Narayan and Warke’s new Pearl District restaurant, Irving Street Tapas, that lengthy list includes things like calamari in harissa aioli, samosas, steak in chimichurri or wasabi butter sauce, or Greek yemista — all served for under $10 each.
Narayan has been playing with the idea of opening an eclectic small-plates restaurant for the better part of a decade. It wasn’t until the pandemic, however, that he had the time to begin working on recipes. The two have been workshopping the menu for the last year, and now that they’ve hired a kitchen and bar staff, the two have started incorporating the feedback and perspective of their employees. The resulting menu includes a slate of dishes ranging from $4 to $8, covering a wide swath of cuisines: Quintessential Spanish dishes — tortilla española, gazpacho, patatas bravas — appear next to things like grilled ahi, calamari with harissa aioli, and peri-peri chicken. A good number of menu items also lean on Narayan and Warke’s Indian background — a facet of themselves they’ve generally avoided in their professional careers. Warke has never cooked Indian food professionally, and Narayan has only briefly cooked Indo-Chinese food.
“The Indian food here is really westernized,” Narayan says. “Lots of cream.’” The Indian dishes on the Irving Street Tapas menu generally stray from dairy and lean on South Indian flavors — think peppery stir-fried mushrooms and minty pudina chicken. But, like many chefs, Narayan likes to use his whole pantry while designing dishes; for instance, Irving Street Tapas’ sambusas come with brava sauce, and Narayan infuses the panna cotta with Thai tea. “People ask me what I like to cook most, what cuisine,” he says. “I don’t know. I like it all.”
As for drinks, Irving Street Tapas will be pouring beer, wine, and sangria, with a full bar and a handful of signature cocktails. In the future, Narayan and Warke want to introduce larger plates like paellas, but they’re quite literally starting small. The restaurant plans to open for indoor and outdoor dining July 1 in the former Irving Street Kitchen space, 701 NW 13th Avenue.