During the 14-year construction of Park Guell, as millions of candy-colored ceramic shards were affixed to curvaceous benches, ceilings and steeples, someone must have asked the architect, “Hey, Gaudi, do you think this gigantic Technicolor salamander might be a bit much?” The park, a Barcelona landmark, is arguably garish and definitely glorious—a larger-than-life inedible candyland, complete with a multi-story mock gingerbread house. Williamsburg’s Isa captures a sliver of the Park Guell spirit. If you look down to where the building meets the Wythe Avenue sidewalk, you’ll find a slim mosaic of mismatched pieces of broken ceramics. This isn’t the only way that Isa echoes Gaudi’s playfulness. The doorway is curtained by a bunch of afghans, which may have been purchased at a craft fair to support the colorblind, stitched together to highlight their clashing yarns. The menu offerings are handwritten into thought bubbles and pasted over photos of tropical eels and fish, the cocktails pasted over a trippy collage of breaking waves and day-glo hands. The odd angles of the bathroom’s beams are fitted with triangular fun-house mirrors—it’s like peeing in a kaleidoscope. But then, the rest of the design is rustic, minimal and infused with the smoky, country-kitchen aroma of a wood-fired oven.
Isa’s best dishes pair the playfulness of the bathroom mirrors with the primitive simplicity of that oven. If the color green had a flavor, it would taste like the teardrop-shaped scoop of parsley ice cream that was served in a tiny pool of fresh lemon juice just before dessert. Bright, cooling and creamy, it conjured freshly mown grass in the air and Mr. Softee’s vanilla soft-serve on the lips. Sweet mandarin oranges complemented fresh, raw scallops, and the frosty tang of rice vinegar granita elevated the dish. The impeccable tartare was plated like a work of modern art—a perfect circle of velvety beef beside a smaller ring of crunchy flaxseeds and a round dollop of crème fraiche. A plate of crusty, chewy bread, alongside butter crusted with fennel and caraway seeds, offered the heartiness that these light dishes lacked. However, the precision of the food offerings was lost on a rye cocktail that promised “orange bitters, smoked orange, flames.” It was served without smoke or fire and tasted like a sugary Manhattan. The drink would’ve made a sweeter dessert than the celeriac mousse with espresso ice cream, a pairing of flavors that might have made more sense in a first-course soup. In the end, the vegetal dessert didn’t turn out to be as enchanting as a Technicolor salamader, but in art and at artsy restaurants, taking some chances is the point.