“Picture a cuban sandwich on a brioche bun and maybe yucca fries instead of french fries,” Steve Almonte tells Bushwick Daily. He’s describing what he imagines the Cuban-Asian fusion that he and notable chef Ricardo Cardona plan to serve on the menu at Aura Cocina. The restaurant is set to be the centerpiece culinary experience of The Breeze, a 100,000 square-foot ex-pillow warehouse that Hudson Companies dropped about $50 million to develop into a kind of highbrow mall that’s set to fully open in East Williamsburg some time next year.
So far, there’s just a marketing and media services firm using the space and, on a weekday night, a group of them have the concrete plaza to themselves and their light beers, which they drink to the boom of Tame Impala’s “Let It Happen,” while Almonte goes on about his dreams.
“Dumplings, rock shrimp, fried rice,” he continues, elucidating the second half of the fused offerings.
Almonte met Cardona, a former busboy who now works as executive chef for the Yankees, while the latter was at a New Jersey spot called Son Cubano. Almonte was running a place called the Caoba Brooklyn Bistro in Cypress Hills, a small Dominican place that once hosted Mega 97.9’s DJ Jinx Paul’s “Mega Sundays,” before the radio star’s death in a hit-and-run earlier this year.
Almonte yearned to advance to the next tier in restauranteering. “The bathroom there is as small as it’s going to get,” he jokes.
“One of the things they wanted us to do at The Breeze is to improvise, to be innovative, to do something new,” Almonte says. “That’s why we didn’t want to just be traditional Latin.”
They originally had French-Cuban in mind, which explains the planned light beachfront blue, the sloping seats and the living wall of plant life that will greet those entering,
“I googled ‘breeze’ in Latin and it translates to aura, which also means energy, like your energy. I love the idea of reading people’s energy,” Almonte says. “And that’s my grandmother’s name.”
Almonte is joined by his sister Elaine, who speaks authoritatively about Aura Cocina’s design, and Stephen Rodriguez, one of the chefs from Caoba who will join the Almontes in East Williamsburg. They speak proudly of his accomplishments, which include the invention of what they bill as the first Dominican pizza, a plantain-sausage savory delight. The pizza was featured at the tail end of a culinary program Thrillist ran with the “Orange Is The New Black” star Jackie Cruz.
Almonte was a waiter before he signed up for the military shortly after 9/11 and was awarded a Purple Heart shortly after arriving. Later, he was among the subjects of “Temple de Acero,” a TV documentary program that followed veterans after their military service and ran on Nat Geo Mundo, a National Geographic offshoot aimed at Spanish-speaking audiences. Elaine mentions proudly that the show was nominated for an International Emmy.
She hopes the restaurant will appeal to food bloggers, artists and businesspeople in East Williamsburg.
“[It will be] a clubhouse of sorts where young men and women who will determine the direction of the culture come to network, flirt, be inspired and be seen,” she writes in an email.
Rates are scheduled to run mid-high price, the Almontes estimate it as $20-25 an entree, though Cardona is keeping the menu a secret until later this month. The opening is scheduled, tentatively, for around Thanksgiving.
All photos provided by Aura Cocina.
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