April 3, 2019
Misi, a New Restaurant in Brooklyn, Puts the Art of Pasta Making on Display
The restaurant’s designers, Asfour Guzy Architects, tailored a specific room for making pasta and showing-off the craft to passerby outside.
Should you find yourself near Williamsburg’s waterfront on a given afternoon, you might discover an act of theater unfolding on Kent Avenue. Looking through the ground-level windows of the restaurant Misi, chef Missy Robbins’s eatery that opened last fall, you’ll find cooks preparing for the evening’s guests. Specifically, they are making pasta—kneading, extruding, and pressing—in a room that Misi’s designers, Asfour Guzy Architects, tailored specially for the craft.
“Making pasta is almost a scientific thing,” says principal Peter Guzy. “If you don’t have the right amount of humidity, you can’t dry the pasta properly.” And in Misi’s temperature- and humidity-controlled pasta room, the conditions are just right. At times, the space moonlights as a private dining area—possible thanks to its expansive view of the Manhattan skyline and a dash of stagecraft. (One pasta machine is set on a wheeled dolly, and stools hide away in storage.)
Like a perfect al dente ribbon of pappardelle, Misi’s premise is deceptively simple. The menu offers ten vegetable dishes and ten pasta dishes, making it the noodle-centric counterpart to Lilia, Robbins’s popular wood-fired Italian enterprise a short walk away. Taking lessons from her other restaurant, Robbins sought to expand bar seating and put the culinary process front and center at Misi.
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Of course, the pasta room is one part of this effort. (“It announces the mission of the restaurant,” says Guzy.) But even more effective is Misi’s open kitchen, which the architects wrapped in a maple butcher-block counter by John Boos & Co. There, perched on stools, diners are eye level with the chefs preparing the night’s tortelli and linguine. Counter seating makes up nearly half of the restaurant’s 122 seats—a strategy that, if not well designed, could prove challenging for groups. To maximize seating for large parties, the architect extended the counter to seat up to ten guests at each end.
The dining space is clad in only a handful of materials: White Italian brick graces the walls, pairing with smoky encaustic-tile floors and black satin-finish seating from HAY, which carves out graceful silhouettes in the space. Structurally, the open-kitchen format recalls the stands one finds in an outdoor market, like those in Bologna, where Robbins first learned to make pasta.
Indeed, these experiences in Italian markets proved central in Misi’s design. When conceiving the space, Guzy explains, “[Robbins and I] discussed the notion of compression and the sense of life one has in an Italian market…. There’s a sense of informality, a sense of variety, a sense of choice, a sense of really touching all the senses.” This influence is underlined at Misi through a subtle feeling of exteriority reinforced by blown-glass Tala bulbs that glow overhead like stars and custom sconces from Juniper that evoke outdoor lighting.
The spirit of Misi might be best summarized in a pair of initials, QB—standing for quanto basta—which are carved into a long concrete reception table. A sort of ethos for the spare yet indulgent cuisine, as well as Misi’s interior scheme, the phrase translates to “as much as necessary.” Yes, and not an ounce more.