El Bulli Veteran Najat Kaanache on Opening of Piripi: "We're Very Close"

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The Village of Merrick Park got a bit more Parisian with the opening of Pascal Oudin's Brasserie Central. The European flair will continue when El Bulli veteran Najat Kaanache opens Piripi in the ritzy outdoor mall in a couple of weeks.

Piripi, which is Spanish slang for tipsy or buzzed, refers to the state between dreamlike awareness and reality. Although the restaurant will be Spanish, don't expect tapas. "We don't use the word 'tapas' in this Piripi concept," Kaanache explains. "We have a new word that we think is fun, and we want to teach and educate, and that goes with the concept."

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"The biggest connection humans have is with the earth, and food comes from earth." That's the concept of Piripi: natural, rustic, and earthy food. As far as the word to replace tapas, it's piripicoteo, which fuses piripi with the Spanish term picoteo.

"Picoteo is the Spanish way. It's what people will say when they want to go out and eat a bunch of different things and have fun in the process. When you see the menu, you will understand." Speaking of the menu, Kaanache is about 99 percent done with hers. "It's nothing from another planet, but it is different. As long as I get a smile from each human being, that's all I want."

Having worked with some of the greatest chefs on the planet, that shouldn't be hard to do. Originally of Moroccan descent but raised in San Sebastian, Kaanache worked with Ferran Adrià at El Bulli for two years before its closure. She has also honed her skills at Michelin three-starred restaurants Noma, Per Se, French Laundry, and Alinea. "Miami made sense for me. I was in Texas before this, and that was great, but I really needed an area where my food could be understood. I think this is it."

The understanding Kaanache refers to is her childlike and wondrous approach to the food she cooks. "I have learned that in the kitchen, you have to be humble and that if the will is inside, you can achieve everything you dream. Ferran taught me to free my imagination and to be a child, but most important, to not be scared to repress that child."

The food will blur the lines between the ordinary and surreal but will be authentic Spanish. "I think 75 percent of the menu is seafood-focused since I am from San Sebastian, but of course we have dishes from the south too." Think Pulpo Paul (slow-cooked Mediterranean octopus with peasant potatoes); the Hobbit (petite vegetable ribbons and tips with avocado); Cucurucho de Bogavante (socarrat cone with lobster mousse); and Crema Catafrita (fried crema catalana). Prices will range from $6 to $16 for appetizers, $18 to $40 for entrées, and $6 to $12 for desserts.

As for the decor, Kaanache says it's a "magical space that's not pretentious but elegant." A 20-foot blown-glass chandelier will combine rustic and modern elements, and a wine wall will feature a selection of vinos carefully curated by Spanish sommelier Ferran Centelles, who spent more than a decade at El Bulli. There will also be a semiprivate chef's dining room where up to 12 guests can be taken on a culinary journey by Kaanache. Inside and out will seat up to 200 guests.

"We're very close to opening," she says, "maybe two weeks, maybe two and a half."

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