What happens when two bus boys from Long
Island’s Temple Gates of Zion join forces and open a restaurant
in Brooklyn? The answer is Soma, a modern eatery in the heart
of Williamsburg, perfectly suited to the neighborhood’s artists,
or anyone long on style and short on cash.
Employing an unsavory crew of carpenters, plumbers and window-installers, owners Daniel Ray and Adam Rose revamped a once-decrepit pizza parlor into a chic space with "Danish-Asian" decor. Opened last March, this sparsely decorated room, made warm with red oak wall tiles and soft lighting, seats just 18 comfortably.
It’s intimate of course; paintings done by local artists hang on the walls, candlelight on the tables softens any hard edges and soft music relaxes the mood. Soma’s a great place for quiet conversation or a simple meal after a gallery opening. The food is inexpensive, but you won’t feel like you’re slumming. Bring a date.
With little besides a pizza oven and a dough mixer in the kitchen, Chef Rose proves that man can live by bread alone. After a stint as cook, training under chef Michael Fennelly of Mecca restaurant in San Francisco, Rose has taken his considerable talent and devised a menu that uses bread to great advantage. A basket of the restaurant’s house-baked bread, crisp and flaky, garlicky and lightly topped with pesto, disappeared from our table in seconds. Focaccia, another great house-made bread, serves as a tender base for pizzas and the hearty Soma burger. (A special burger is offered every evening.)
Can a menu that includes soba noodles, corn salsa, barbecued pork and lox succeed?
More often then not it does. The tomato bisque, served with a cheddar crouton, tasted of sun-warmed tomatoes and cream.
As manager and restaurant cheerleader Ray explained, "We wanted to make something that reminded us of tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches."
The restaurant’s name is derived from Aldous Huxley’s "Brave New World" in which "soma" is society’s pseudo Prozac. Speaking of panaceas, I’m happy to report that the vegetarian chili with corn salsa will not remind you of anything you’ve eaten before in natural food restaurants. Soma’s spicy version tasted of lime and cilantro, and the corn salsa added a nice crunch.
The chili-spiced pierogies, crisp and greaseless, served a la Jackson Pollock with splashes of lemon-flavored sour cream, were tasty but reminded me of dorm party fare.
No country is forgotten, no ethnic group ignored in the chef’s global search for pizza toppings. There’s a smoked salmon pizza with every ingredient (except coffee cake) you’ve ever eaten on Sunday - pass The New York Times, please; a chipotle chili pie made with a spicy adobo sauce, salsa and liberally splashed lemon sour cream; and there’s a Mississippi BBQ pizza with pulled pork and house-made barbecue sauce, and, well, you get the picture. It’s not sophisticated fare, but there’s a time for foie gras and a time for pizza, and at Soma the pizzas are the prize.
If you have a little extra money to burn, splurge on a special entree. We tried lobster ravioli topped with shrimp in a wine and cream-laced tomato sauce. Rich, yes, and intensely flavored, and if that doesn’t satisfy you on a cold night - then nothing will.
It was a chilly evening so we passed on the salads. The ubiquitous grilled chicken Caesar salad and a salad of mixed greens are on the lineup along with more adventurous offerings like a roasted portabello salad with endive, roasted peppers and sun-dried tomato vinaigrette and an Asian-inspired shrimp salad tossed with fried soba noodles and mixed greens in a miso vinaigrette.
The wine list is small and affordable with a few obscure bottles. Beers include popular microbrews and a couple of Brooklyn Brewery ales that make an unbeatable combination when teamed with the globe-spanning pizzas.
Desserts are an on-again, off-again affair that was off-again the evening I was there. I’ll report back at a later date when dessert is actually on the menu.
And, I will come back again. There’s enough warmth in this tiny restaurant to fill Lundy’s 10 times over. Eating there made me feel happy, and in our "brave new world," can’t we all use a little Soma?
Soma (192 Grand St. between Bedford and Driggs avenues in Williamsburg) is open for dinner Tuesday Sunday. Brunch may be served later in the season. Entrees: $5 $9. Special entrees: $11-16. Cash only. For more information call (718) 302-9100.