160 Havemeyer Street
Brooklyn, NY 11222
Cuisine: Vegetarian, American (New)
Our Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ Great
Cards: All Major
Price: $75 Tasting Menu
Hours: Daily 6pm-10pm, Closed Sunday
Booze: Full Bar
Subway: L to Bedford or Lorimer, JMZ to Marcy
Like so many ambitious restaurants today, it began as a pop-up. Chez Jose was the brainchild of Jose Ramirez-Ruiz and Pamela Yung, who started out in a coffee shop down the street and then moved their temporary restaurant to the current space on Havemeyer, a skillet’s throw from the Williamsburg Bridge exit lane. Now the name has been changed to Semilla (“Seed”) and the place radiates permanence. While the pop-up preserved the fried-fish accoutrements of the former Lake Trout space, now the premises has been handsomely remade, featuring 18 stools along a horseshoe-shaped counter engulfed in a soft light. Half of the small kitchen remains visible at the open end of the counter, where two or three cooks bustle around, entering and exiting like actors in a play. The restaurants’ main offering — apart from a handful of snacks — is a 10-course tasting menu ($75)
Semilla evolved out of a pop-up called Chez Jose that a number of our friends (including the one who ended up at the random guy’s front door) had raved about when it was open a few years back, which is largely why we ended up there. In the new, permanent incarnation, they serve a $75 frequently changing tasting menu, which promises to be mostly, if not all vegetarian. The restaurant’s 18 seats are set up in a U-shape that faces the kitchen, with an aisle down the middle for bringing out the 10 courses. The chefs and hostess regularly stop by to basically just say what’s up and ask how you’re enjoying the meal, which lends an inviting vibe.
People were psyched about the Chez Jose pop-up because it was both homey and delicious, and Semilla does hit those notes at times. But on our visit, some of the dishes were a little too rich or too salty, while others, like dessert-y beignets that came out around the middle of the meal, tasted great but seemed just a little too random.
We weren’t exactly sure what to expect at Semilla, and if you go, you really won’t either, because the menu changes constantly. But generally speaking, don’t expect a big slab of meat. Do expect root vegetables with which you’re vaguely familiar. Hello, burdock! And do expect an experience that even if not always entirely delicious, will certainly be interesting. Hey, you might even meet the guy upstairs.