Pour one out for Isa, Taavo Somer's weird and occasionally wonderful restaurant on Wythe Avenue in Williamsburg. Black shutters are covering the windows right now, and nobody's picking up the phone. A sign in the menu box explains: "Isa has closed. We're apologize for any inconvenience. It has been a pleasure serving you." The restaurant opened in August 2011 with a roots-y space created by Somer, of Freemans fame, and a kitchen helmed by former Il Buco chef Ignacio Mattos.
From day one, Isa was committed to being weird — it was gleefully out of step with the rest of the trendy restaurant pack in terms of design, cuisine, and branding. The menu looked like a 90s punk music zine. The homepage started out as a groovy doodle of a naked guy, but no information about the restaurant whatsoever. Isa hosted seance discos, yoga, and puppet workshops in its upstairs space. And downstairs, Mattos was serving forward-thinking cuisine with a variety of influences, available a la carte or as a three-course prix fixe. Eric Asimov, working as interim Times critic after Sam Sifton left and before Pete Wells took over, gave the restaurant one star. The critic noted: "In design and execution, Isa is very much an unusual expression, to be applauded for its successes, understood for its striving and forgiven for its lapses, which at least resemble no others."
Isa briefly closed after a major staff shake-up in June 2012. Mattos and his team were let go, and Somer brought in a new crew to cook another menu. The restaurateur told Eater: "I always imagined ISA to be a casual, friendly, wood-fired place with Mediterranean cuisine that would be enjoyed by the neighborhood, families and friends, a few times a week." Although the new, more accessible menu had its fans, the critics didn't return to check it out. Mattos went on to find major success at Estela and its spinoff Cafe Altro Paradiso, while two of his Isa teammates, Jose Ramirez-Ruiz and Pamela Yung, opened critical darling Semilla on Havemeyer Street.
Isa hosted a surprise pop-up from Roberta's a few weeks before its closure. Eater has reached out to Somer to find out if he has any future plans for the space. Stay tuned for more details as they become available.