“Woodworking, cooking with fire, chopping wood, these are all things that I associate with dads,” said Taavo Somer, the New York-based designer and restaurateur behind hot spots Freeman’s Alley and Peels. Somer, who recently became a dad himself, has channeled these paternal visions into his latest boite, which, in a nod to his Eastern European roots, he named Isa—“father” in Estonian.
Situated on what just a few years ago was a desolate corner of Williamsburg, the warm and decidedly woody restaurant occupies the ground floor of a freestanding three-story brick house from the mid-1800s. Somer, who is leasing the entire 5000 square-foot building, gutted the space, adding a terracotta tile floor and tearing out interior walls to create a spacious dining room, visible to passersby through large windows framed by glossy black shutters. Most of the 45 seats inside have a view of the open kitchen, a marble and stainless steel stage crowned by an enormous hand-sculpted hood of white plaster cement. Triangular shapes articulated on the hood repeat throughout the restaurant: in patterns created by reclaimed beams in the ceiling, in the stacked bins of an interior wall that cradles chopped firewood, on the front of the bronzed bar, and in the prototypes for custom light fixtures that evoke geodesic domes.
Courtesy Taavo Somer
Indeed, Somer cites Buckminster Fuller as one of the main sources of inspiration for a look he labels “primitive modernism.” The ghost of George Nakashima is there, too, in a long, smooth ash wood bench, one of the many furnishings handcrafted in Somer’s woodworking shop a few blocks away. Primitive modernism may also apply to the food by Chef Ignacio Mattos, formerly of Il Buco: sardine filets arrive garnished with a crispy sardine skeleton that may or may not be related.
An advocate of designing through model-making, Somer’s new project is small enough to be a constant work in progress, allowing him to tinker and tweak in fine dad fashion. Fittingly, on a recent visit to Isa, Somer’s own dad was perched on a bar stool, visiting town to survey his son's handiwork.