Bushwick will soon gain an izakaya-style restaurant from a former Momofuku chef. Teo — led by Joaquin (Quino) Baca, whose most recently helmed Southern-focused the Brooklyn Star in Williamsburg — is opening Wednesday, December 26, at 321 Starr St., near Cypress Avenue.
Baca pivots back to Asian-inspired dishes by digging into Japanese flavors, like with yaki onigiri, katsu-style fried chicken, and eggplant katsudon. The petite, 38-seat restaurant, named after his son Mateo, is in a much smaller space than his previous venue and comes with an open kitchen, where a list of yaki skewers ranging from pork belly with pineapple to rabbit tsukune, or meatballs, will be made.
And while a hint of Southern flair from the now-shuttered Brooklyn Star makes its way onto the menu — a chicken skin skewer is served with ranch and Louisiana hot sauce — most of the dishes pull from the chef’s time at Momofuku spots like Noodle Bar. As such, Baca will also be making ramen at Teo, starting with three versions: duck leg, roasted pork shoulder, and seaweed and fungus. See the full menu below.
“It’s what I like to cook,” he says, adding that he feels the neighborhood is lacking in the izakaya department.
Prices range from $5 for skewers to $11 for dishes like the fried chicken or duck wings. Ramen comes in at $15.
He wants the restaurant to be a “very social setting” that’s 80 percent about the food and 20 percent about the booze, he says. Beers, cocktails, sake, and wine will be available. Inside, the decor is meant to be warm and inviting, with a long wooden table offering communal seating, and low-hanging lighting fixtures giving it a loungey vibe.
Up until May, the chef was running Williamsburg favorite Brooklyn Star, an 110-seat neighborhood restaurant that closed after a nine-year run. He cited increased operating costs and slower summers as reasons for the closure, among other financial issues. But before opening Brooklyn Star, Baca spent years helping expand David Chang’s Momofuku empire as part of the teams at influential and critically acclaimed restaurants like Ssäm, Noodle Bar, and Ko.
Teo, he says, is much more reasonably sized compared to Brooklyn Star, and while he enjoyed cooking Southern meals there, his best memories are from his days at Momofuku. “I’m trying to find a way that I can still operate in the city, and one of the ways I can do that is I can have an open kitchen,” Baca says about Teo.
He’s also adopted an unconventional compensation structure in hopes of testing sustainability: the bulk of his staff are tipped employees. Cooks will sometimes operate like bartenders by taking orders, dropping off food, and clearing tables. Servers will still do the majority of the tipped work but will split a portion of their tips among the whole staff, particularly the cooks and dishwashers helping out in the dining room. But Baca says cooks and dishwashers will be paid a regular wage, and the tips will act as supplemental income.
Baca will introduce the restaurant to friends and family this week and plans to open to the public after Christmas next week. Teo will be open daily from 5 to 11 p.m., and will eventually stay open later into night.