Restauranteur Taavo Somer, behind Freemans and Peels, opened his third restaurant, Isa, in Williamsburg at the tail end of summer and just received his liquor license this week. Somer describes the look and feel of Isa as “primitive modernism”, the rustic atmosphere is showcased by exposed brick, an open kitchen, and wood stacked along the back wall for the wood burning oven. In the kitchen is Il Buco alum Ignacio Mattos, who is currently serving a $50 three course prix fixe of some straightforward, some more experimental, local American fare. Now, a look at the early feedback.
The Rave: The Lovage blogs about a incredible dinner at Isa. “But the piéce de la resistance for the appetizers was the Travesio salad dressed in Cashew Nut Cream Cheese from Dr. Cow, a local Williamsburg company that creates extraordinary “living raw food.” The deliciousness factor of this “cheese” (which is not really a cheese, as it contains zero dairy, not to mention soy or preservatives, but is simply the result of carefully fermented organic nuts), tied my head into knots. We used our hands to devour every last “cream” laden bitter leaf in a matter of seconds, and this Travesio dish was so good that it almost makes me contemplate veganism. (Almost, but not quite because then I wouldn’t be able to eat what came next.) The cod, which was poached to perfection, was served warm but not hot, and exquisitely paired with the freshest, most delicate raw and pickled cucumber and a rich garlicky aioli. I could write an ode to the cucumber, which was either from the garden upstairs or from an organic farmer with a golden green thumb.” [thelovage]
The Great News: One Yelper details about how blown away he was with his quality of his dining experience. “This was the most audacious, delicious and delightful meal I've had in 5 years in New York. As an old fan of Freemans, I expected the same with a 'Burg twist - what I got was a real dining experience that rivals anything I've had. In talking to the chef, sous-chef, and pastry chef after the meal I mentioned that we'd been to Can Roca in Spain, and it turns out two of them had staged there - it shows! I'm a private chef for a family here in New York, so like to think I have some critical acumen for these kinds of things -- BLOWN AWAY.” [Yelp]
The Great but Not Enough: A Menupages review cites the food as excellent but complains about the portion size. “The portions are way too small bordering on insulting. The food is well executed but you'll have to have a fat wallet because you'll be making two trips through the menu. The restaurant is gorgeous and the wait staff are true pros.” [Menupages]
The Rude News: One patron took to Menupages to recount a recent dreadful experience and explain why they left “feeling hungry”. “$32 for two to three strips of steak, two small potatoes and a strip of cold leek? A confrontational manager who wanted to know why we left little tip. Over promised, under delivered across service and food. This is seriously an overhyped restaurant - don't let the cutesy interior fool you I hope they take criticism on better next time - you're only in your soft launch period.” [Menupages]
More Good News: Wilfred the Pink Pig calls Isa "highly sophisticated, intellectually stimulating, and satisfying." He had three courses for $50: "This kitchen seizes the current dining clichés of local, sustainable, seasonal (yes, they grow their own green things) and executes them with unprecedented refinement. This is foraged food plated by an artist...The first tastes which arrive will scare hearty trenchermen and have them planning on a burger across the street as a digestif, but the meat plates are robust enough to anchor the menu, and flavors throughout are rich and striking. [The Pink Pig]
Commenter Approved: The Eater commenters even seem to like it: "Had a nice night there last week. $56 between 2 of us for 5 or 6 of the small plates and 2 of the non-alcohol drinks they were mixing up before their liquor license comes in. Very pretty, nice staff and at least half of what we tried was very good." [Eater Comments]
More Bad News: The Immaculate Infatuation boys are not impressed: "Our “test” menu was a $50 prixe fixe made up of all kinds of ingredients of the season. Pork rilletes with apple, roasted quail, mushrooms and so on. There was also a healthy dose of sh*t I’ve barely even heard of on these plates, like nasturtium leaf, sablet, lovage, and salsify. Alright cool, this exam is gonna be verbal. I can handle that. But if you’re going to test my vocabulary, at least make it taste good. I can’t say that anything that arrived at our table – aside from maybe the pork rillettes – impressed us. Most everything was either really boring, or went right over our heads." [II]