La Contenta, a Homestyle Mexican Cafe, Eyeing Saro Space
A veteran restaurateur is aiming to take over the tiny Balkan bistro at 102 Norfolk St.
Luis Arce-Mota, the chef who launched the West Village restaurants Ofrenda and Cafe Condesa, has been looking for a spot of his own for some time. In January, he announced plans to launch his solo venture, La Contenta, on Ridge Street in the space occupied by Rustic L.E.S. Negotiations with the landlord there fell through, and now he’s set his sights on the spot that’s been home to Saro Bistro since late 2010.
“I want to cook for the neighborhood,” Arce-Mota tells The Lo-Down. “I want the workers–the construction workers, the gallery workers–to come in for lunch, for dinner, to get back to basics of Mexican cooking.”
Arce-Mota, who lives in the Grand Street co-ops, operated Cafe Condesa from 2005 to 2008 and Ofrenda from 2009 to 2012. He has since sold his shares in both venues, returned to his roots in Mexico for a few months to brush up on traditional cooking methods, and begun looking for a new kitchen closer to home.
On May 12, the liquor licensing subcommittee of Community Board 3 signed off on his application for a full liquor license, and he’s currently negotiating the lease transfer with the landlord, SMA Equities, which purchased 102 Norfolk St. for $11 million in March.
Arce-Mota emigrated to the United States in 1992 after meeting his wife, a Lower East Side resident, while she was vacationing in Mexico in 1990. He began his restaurant career as a dishwasher and then attended Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and the Culinary Institute of America. He worked at Bouley, Union Square Cafe and Windows on the World before launching his West Village ventures. (Read an interview with him on Chefsurfing here.)
Arce-Mota says he’s planning to do a lot of slow-cooking and braising, and offer dishes in the $10 to $15 range. The restaurant seats about two dozen diners at tables and a small bar, and its proposed hours are 11 a.m. to midnight during the week and 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. on weekends. In paperwork submitted in his original application for the Ridge Street space in January, Arce-Mota outlined a menu featuring fare such as fish tacos and pork rillettes, both for $11, along with a variety of seafood dishes paying homage to his coastal Mexican upbringing.
Saro Bistro, helmed by chef Eran Elhalal, has been closed to the public since at least April 1, with signs on the door saying kitchen renovations were under way but that private catering and events were still available. The restaurant met with some critical praise in its three and a half years, including earning Michelin recognition in 2012, and its Eastern European menu drew a cadre of loyal regulars. We’ve reached out to them for comment.