EAST WILLIAMSBURG — A new Cuban-Asian restaurant Aura Cocina & Bar will soon open doors at the pillow factory-turned-multiuse space at 315 Meserole Street between Bogart and Waterbury Streets, called The Breeze.
The cavernous space, which the owners say will open around the first week of March, evokes old-world Havana glitz – distressed aqua-colored walls, faux-leather ivory banquettes, and the star-like constellation of bulbs lighting the space.
It is still, however, decidedly Brooklyn: turquoise neon letters on one wall inspire guests to “live your best life,” while a patterned floor-length mirror over by the bathroom is, the designer Alfonsina Romero explained, ideal for Instagram. Romero proudly pointed out the swirling white mosaic of tiles – also intentionally faded-looking – that line the floors, as well as the curved faux-leather brown sofas that form a lounge-like focal point for the room. It’s meant to be a classy space, co-owner Elaine Almonte explained, but still provide a relaxing, low-key experience for New Yorkers.
It’s pretty – and definitely a destination in this quiet, low-traffic section of East Williamsburg – but diners will come for and stay for the food. Co-owners (and siblings) Steven and Elaine Almonte, though of Dominican origin themselves, fell hard for the cuisine and the grand-but-crumbling architecture of Cuba and wanted to create a fusion concept that would speak to the East Williamsburg clientele.
Cuba, Steven said, is the one place he’s visited that makes him feel like he’s stepped into a time machine, “You go back, and it’s like you’re going back 50, 60 years.”
While the siblings had originally looked to create a French-Cuban mashup, they nixed the idea when they realized that Asian food might be more accessible to New York diners than French. Asian influences come from places as distinctive as China and Japan – Latin American-style sushi (think sushi with guac!) will be served off a cart in the corner of the dining room, while dumplings will come stuffed with pico de gallo and steak. Short ribs and a sunny-side egg will top fried rice.
Dishes that Steven tasted while he was traveling in Cuba will make it onto the menu, too, with an Asian spin, he says, lovingly describing masitas de cerdo, a dish of tender sautéed pork cubes with seasonings like citrus and oregano.
While the menu itself hasn’t been nailed down yet – Chef Ricardo Cardona, the former personal chef for singer Marc Anthony, as well as for the Yankees, is still working out the kinks – diners can expect showstoppers like a whole fried fish strung up on a hook, to be dismantled and tucked into DIY fish tacos at the table.
Appetizers will cost $10-15, and main dishes will go for $18-30.
Steven found his place in the hospitality industry, working his way up from waiter to bartender. Eventually, he and Cardona partnered up to open the Dominican comfort food spot Caoba Lounge & Bistro in East New York. It got so popular they eventually outgrew the small space and looked elsewhere – The Breeze, a massive, color-blocked structure looming over Meserole Street, looked like the perfect space to spread out in. The name of the complex also struck out at them – the word ‘breeze’ translates to aura in Latin, which happens to be their grandmother’s name. It felt like a natural fit.
Aura Cocina & Bar is located at 315 Meserole Street in East Williamsburg, between Bogart and Waterbury streets. The team plans to have a grand opening once they’ve finalized their opening day. Check for updates on their Instagram.