(Photos: Hoa P Nguyen)

Everyone wants to design the most Instagrammable restaurant. But the team behind Aura Cocina & Bar wants you to put your phone down and appreciate the surroundings when visiting Aura Cocina & Bar. Tucked in the corner of a former warehouse complex, the new Cuban-Asian fusion restaurant sets out to bring a bit of vintage Havana to East Williamsburg. 

“I wanted to provide something that felt almost permanent,” says interior designer Alfonsina Romero-Waters. “Something that shows timelessness [like] a lot of the interiors in Cuba today that are not updated. They’re still very old and they’re very beautiful. They’ll make you look away from your phone.”

Aura is currently in its final stage of construction as part of The Breeze development, a self-described “creative class workspace” at 315 Meserole. From the Montrose L station, you’ll be admiring a few blocks’ worth of graffiti before arriving at the former warehouse revamped to feature office, retail and restaurant spaces. But inside Aura are custom mosaic patterns inspired by the cobblestone streets in many historical places in Cuba and patchy, gold-leaf wall textures influenced by Cuba’s colorful streetscapes.

There is a variety of seating arrangements in the space, from ivory upholstered sofas paired with gold-trimmed tabletops to almond-colored couches for larger parties. On the left side of the bar, next to the sushi station, a vertical garden brings the outdoors indoors. Exposed ceilings and brick walls create a rustic but lustrous look, and the lighting is multifunctional, since the restaurant converts into a club at night on the weekends. Aura will be hosting burlesque shows and small concerts, with DJs playing anything from Top 40 to progressive house and trance, 80s and 90s music to dubstep. On the other hand, Aura will also serve as a cozy venue for live jazz, live Cuban trio and tipico. 

Aura’s owner Steven Almonte is excited to open his second restaurant after having run Caoba Brooklyn Bistro, a Dominican comfort-food restaurant in Cypress Hills. “[Cuban and Asian]  cuisines are my two favorites and I was just going to get a celebrity chef to combine them both,” Almonte said. “There are not many Cuban-Asian restaurants here in the city.” Almonte’s favorite dishes are pulled pork and Thai fried rice. He also likes basil and hot peppers.

Almonte succeeded in getting chef Ricardo Cardona, who has cooked for the Yankees, Marc Anthony and the Rangers, to join the Aura team. Cardona then invited Asian chef Eric Meas to collaborate. “They made a phenomenal menu, with both their own spices and herbs very similar in a way,” said Almonte. “If you go back to the heritage of Cuban food, they have a lot of ingredients that they use in Asia.” Here, the ropa vieja—shredded beef typically served with brown rice—will be served over Asian fried rice with a sunny-side-up egg on top. The dumplings will be filled with Spanish-style pork.

The chefs have test-cooked some dishes on the menu for Almonte and his sister to try. “Eric’s Peking Duck is to die for—it’s very good,” Almonte said.

Aura Cocina & Bar is opening in early March on 315 Meserole Street.