A few foggy Sundays ago I ventured to the newly opened L'estudio with a friend of mine after reading a number of glowing reviews. We had no reservation and were thus prepared to wait on the wooden bench perched outside the window for quite a while. However, what we did not see coming was the immense amount of attention we would receive in the time leading up to our table getting readied. We were asked if we would like a complimentary coffee while we waited, which of course we two native New Yorkers replied to with an eager yes. A few minutes later a wooden board complete with raw sugar and lusciously foamy lattes spilling out of handmade ceramic cups arrived. The apparent emphasis placed on creating a complete hospitable experience instantly drew me in. They have already succeeded in emulating the genuine feel of a trusted neighborhood establishment, one where you'll run into people you know, have regular dishes, and look forward to bring friends by. L’estudio is trendy in the sense that it is pleasing to the eye and delivers the types of food you want to eat, but to call it trendy in the traditional sense of the word is selling it short. The beauty of the food is that it is revelatory in its simplicity, but complex in its taste. Each dish boasts wonderful layers of vibrant flavors, some familiar, some unexpected, and perhaps, some completely foreign. Yet, the magic is that somehow everything comes together resulting in a deeply comforting and vaguely homey way. I spoke with the L’estudio team after becoming completely infatuated with what they were doing and needing to know more.
L'estudio is located at 61 Hester street and is open Monday through Sunday.
Firstly, can you tell me a little about the journey from concept to realization? What sparked the interest in opening L'estudio?
It's been a multifaceted journey. Way back when our 61 Hester street address was the home of Brown. (café). Here is a mention in the New Yorker for a glimpse into those days in case you are curious:
Brown took a Hiatus for some time and was used for private events only, not daily service. The past few years we have been watching our much loved neighborhood change and evolve, now felt like the right time to open the doors again; in a new and separate way.
What sparked our interest to become l'estudio were the people we met along the way, we had discussed with friends and neighbors our interests in opening the doors and realized that we are essentially ever evolving collaborative of chefs and makers. Friends introduced us to fellow creatives and together we brought this concept that we were living (but not naming) into action. Even in the Brown days we made all of our furniture, built our kitchen, basically the entire space was crafted by hand, even the leather door handles. Alejandro was entirely at the helm of that. The ceramic factor related to our minimal to zero waste interest and initiatives is the new addition that felt just right. Thus our namesake became l'estudio.
I know Fernando is the chef, but how collaborative of a process is the menu development?
The opening menu was devised by Fernando and Guiseppe and as Fernando moves to explore and develop our ceramics line, the menu continues to evolve as a collaboration between Alejandro and visiting chefs.
How would you define the kind of food you serve?
** I would say that our food is first and foremost ingredient driven. Sourcing from the best possible purveyors and not overly seasoning anything. We are at the core Mediterranean inspired with a slight latin twist, that twist however is not overt, it is more in our use of citrus, and selected pepper and certain grains. Not in a way most people would think of “latin”. Our food is healthy for sure but not "health food". Olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper are one of the cornerstones of our flavors, that and being mindful of the seasons.
How would you define the kind of place you have created?
** I hope we have created a friendly place, a welcoming and aesthetically pleasing environment. We have wifi just because it's needed to run our POS and play music but we don't share the password. We would like for guests to interact, talk to a neighboring table, further a sense of community, gather their thoughts. Become inspired.
What is your vision/ goal for L'estudio?
*** Our long term vision is for our adjacent studio to operate as not just our ceramics studio but a retail outpost and artist residency. We also have in development a refillable little to zero footprint food product line.
What menu items are you most pleased with?
***I am most pleased with our new spring lettuce and leafy green salad, that with a piece of our house made bread toasted makes me very happy, it is so simple and yet has everything I enjoy.
Who is part of the team?
*Our core team is Alejandro Alcocer, Jessica Moriber and Joel Viehland who joined us for our launch after doing a stint at Noma among other places and while along the road to opening his own place in Kent Connecticut which happens very soon! John Freeman is a long time friend and our warm, hospitable, all around super general manager. Fernando Acair is leading our ceramics production, special projects & collaborations. And soon I will fill you in our new chef who will become an integral part of the team.
Where does your produce come from?
** our sourcing revolves heavily around the season and is sourced with a 3 hour radius of NYC. To name a few of our purveyors: Lani's Farm, berried treasures ,Phillips Farm, Cherry Lane , Eckerton Hill, Migliorelly, Norwhich meadow, Satur , amber waves , Hoeffner.