NAYA officially opens for business this week. The restaurant will be open Monday through Saturday, 5 to 10 p.m. The restaurant does not accept reservations; it’s first come, first served. Metered parking is available on nearby streets.

I had the distinct pleasure of visiting NAYA last week during their soft opening. The newest restaurant to join the Sakanaya/Miga group, NAYA serves contemporary takes on Italian food. You might remember the specials that were running most of last year at MIGA — they were a hit, and a preview of what you can expect at NAYA. 

Located on the corner of Third and Green, NAYA looks much like MIGA, but with warm tones and accents — think wood and warm colors instead of stone and grays. The bar looks more or less the same as MIGA’s, and there’s certainly a shared aesthetic and sensibility to the three restaurants. It’s smaller than MIGA, but even though you’re a little closer to your fellow diners, there was still a sense of privacy and intimacy at the tables. My server was friendly, efficient, and informative, and I didn't see any other tables without water, or diners looking around for their servers. Even thought it was very busy, the staff seemed confident in their actions and purpose. 

I really enjoyed everything I ate; it was among the best meals I’ve had in C-U, for sure. What I noticed over the course of my meal was that everything was well executed and well seasoned. It was obvious to me that the kitchen, helmed by Thad Morrow (founder of bacaro), has a clear vision of what and how to execute. Every ingredient on each dish made sense and served a purpose with regard to flavor and texture. Lucky for you (and me, since I plan on returning), the food I ate last week will be on the menu for this week:

 

The chicken thighs with rosemary oil skewers (two per order, $6) were delicious. They were perfectly cooked; I could taste the rosemary and the chicken. It was a really nice way to start the meal.

The arancini (rice balls stuffed with cheese, $6) were wonderful. The rice was perfectly cooked, the cheese inside was melty, and the exterior was crispy. These babies are not to be missed.

The spaghetti with aglio, olio, pancetta, and pepperoncini (hot pepper flakes) is super simple, but was also delicious ($14). The pasta was cooked to al dente, and the pancetta was super crispy; the aglio (garlic) and olio (oil) were in the ideal ratio. When I have a good dish of pasta like that at a restaurant, it’s an indicator to me that the kitchen knows what it is doing, and that they are paying attention.

I think my favorite dish of the night was the balsamic braised beef short ribs served with fingerling potatoes and sautéed spinach ($26). The beef was so tender, so soft, and so flavorful. The sauce was savory and delicious — I wanted to lick the plate.

The other contender for favorite dish of the night was dessert, an orange olive oil cake served with some whipped mascarpone ($8). Orange-flavored desserts are generally not my go-to, but this cake was divine. It was incredibly moist, thanks to the olive oil, and gently flavored with orange. The earthy notes of the olive oil with the fruity orange were delightful. I was also very interested in eating a lot more of that mascarpone whip on the side — that stuff is so good.

All in all I had a really wonderful meal at NAYA, and I look forward to going back for date night and for a nice dinner with friends. 

NAYA 
212 E Green St
Champaign
M-Sa 5 to 10 p.m.

Photos by Jessica Hammie