Piripi Now Open in Merrick Park

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You may look up when you sit down at Piripi, Merrick Park’s newest eatery. At the San Sebastian-inspired restaurant helmed by El Bulli veteran Najat Kaanache, the long concrete bar has chips of colorful glass ingrained in it. “It’s meant to resemble sand,” says partner Charles Accivatti, “like if glass from up above were falling into it.”

By "up above," he means the hand-blown “under the sea” chandelier designed by Ryan Blythe (whose worked under Chihuly on the Bellagio project) that features octopi, jellyfish, and other sea creatures in vibrant hues. At night, the color-changing chandelier gives Piripi, which officially opened this week, a whimsical and borderline-surreal feel.

And a blast chiller creates a smoky cloud that hovers over the bar and leaves your glass completely frosted and ready to be filled with Bombay Sapphire, thyme, and grapefruit bitters — Piripi’s version of a gin and tonic. “Gin cools you down, and Miami is hot,” Accivatti says. Other cocktails include a cucumber gimlet, Frodo’s garden (Bombay Dry, heirloom tomatoes, broken basil, Spanish olive oil, and crashed peppercorns), and daily sangria. “We wanted to make sure the bar was this area where people could sit and drink every day for a long time.”
That wasn’t a problem when beverage director Matt Reiser put together a wine list with the help of Ferran Centelle, who spent 13 years as El Bulli’s sommelier. “We’re focusing on small boutique and organic family vineyards,” Reiser says. “Luckily, we have great relationships and connections because of Ferran’s experience that have allowed us to formulate an outstanding list.” The list is 40 percent Spanish, 40 percent American, and 20 percent international. “Half of our wine list is also under $60, so everyone can come often and drink a really good wine for a great price.”

As for the foods, Kaanache’s menu is hefty and divided into a plethora of categories. The chef — who apprenticed at Michelin-starred kitchens, including Noma, Per Se, French Laundry, and Alinea, and spent two years at El Bulli prior to its closure — is bringing a lot of San Sebastian with her. Patatas bravas are "patatas soufflé” ($9) and described light as air. There’s pan con tomate, but also air pizza “tomaquet” topped with smoky Idiazabal cheese and heirloom tomatoes ($11). Boquerones ($10), which are usually eaten with olives, are paired with an olive sponge.

Other unique and attention-grabbing dishes include noodles with jamón ibérico, poached egg, and saffron ($22), as well as navajas (razor clams) with cilantro and horchata ($16). The nut milk is very popular during the warm summer months in Spain, but never before have I seen or thought of it with razor clams  — it will be interesting to see how it fares. The hot diggity dog (salted meringue bun with chicken liver mousse) sounds equally interesting and unusual ($9).

There are, of course, classics on the menu. A selection of Spanish cheese and charcuterie is proffered, as is tortilla “grandma style” ($8), chistorra doused in Damm beer ($12), bacalao al pil pil ($26), Galician-style octopus ($18), and Andalusian gazpacho ($8). Five paellas, from calamari and squid ink to wild rabbit and naked chicken, also grace the menu.

Desserts include fried crema catalane ($9), Basque French toast ($12), and choco planeta ($15), which translates to a "planet of chocolate." 
The decor is warm and inviting, with an open floor plan and a kitchen that seats five diners at the counter. Half of the dining room features champagne-hued tablecloths, while the other half boasts wooden tables. "We wanted to create spaces within spaces," Accivatti says. The same is the case for Lola, the semiprivate glass box that seats up to ten and opens directly into the kitchen. But Lola can’t be reserved just yet. “We’re going to do carefully curated dining experiences in here — not a tasting menu, but basically you’ll tell the chef what you like and are looking for, and she’ll create something customized for you.” No word yet when these trips down the culinary rabbit hole will be available, but once they are, reservations will be through Grant Achatz’s ticketing system, Tock. "It won't be anything molecular, at least not yet." 

Follow Carla on Twitter and Facebook.

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