Little Star, the sophomore dining venture by Oakhart Social’s Ben Clore and Tristan Wraight, is slated to open its doors December 30, when its warm hearth and welcoming vibe should be a respite from the chill.
Joined by third partner and executive chef Ryan Collins, the team has put together a restaurant they hope will make patrons feel right at home, complete with bright, Spanish-style tiled walls, large but cozy booths, and warm lighting throughout.
“The theme we liked was more based upon being a kid, harkening back to a time when we didn’t have fears and worries,” Collins says. “It’s like what our hospitality is: Come in, we got you, we’ll take care of you…there’s good food, a little smoke, and a big hearth.”
Collins, who spent eight years working for renowned Spanish-American tapas chef and Nobel Peace Prize nominee José Andrés, says his menu will reflect his affinity for both Spanish- and Mexican-influenced fare, as well as some unexpected takes on barbecue.
Much of this food will come from the hearth, the centerpiece of the open-plan kitchen, where they’ll be burning through a good cord of oak hardwood each week.
“In the smoking oven, a lot of prep will get done in there—even desserts, like a smoked milk custard with charred orange,” he says. “We’ll have roasted vegetables for escalivada—which are roasted and charred, then steamed with their own heat, peeled, cleaned, and all the juices from being steamed go to make the dressing.”
Little Star will offer a shaved pork loin with a mole manchamanteles—a fruit mole with pasilla chilis, plantains, raisins, pineapples, onions, and nuts, topped with crispy sweet potatoes. Also featured: pork short ribs, marinated and slow-cooked in spices and herbs then pulled off the bone (reminiscent of barbecue but without the sweet sauce); hand-cut ham; patatas bravas in a ranchero sauce; and a sweet, tangy salad of barbecued sunchokes with caramelized onions, mojo picón, and shaved apples.
Collins says Andrés and his primarily Spanish team strongly influenced his cooking style, as did working with famous chefs whom his boss brought in as guests, including Diana Kennedy, a renowned authority on Mexican cooking.
More recently, Collins was the chef at Early Mountain Vineyards, and collaborated with Wraight and Clore on some side events, including a hugely popular taco pop-up at Oakhart in the summer of 2017. They’d discussed opening a restaurant, and happened into the former Threepenny Café site, just across the street from Oakhart, before the general public knew it was for rent, nabbing it before anyone else could get it.
They retrofitted the spot to showcase the oven, with greater visibility from outside to give it a high impact from the street. While the space at Oakhart is tighter and more intimate, they wanted Little Star to be more spacious and comfortable, Clore adds.
“We wanted an open kitchen—we want it to be a show,” he says. “When you’re walking down the street, we want you to say, ‘oh—there’s a fire in there! What’s going on?’”
Manning the bar will be bar director Joel (pronounced Ho-el) Cuellar, who’s spent the past 14 years as beverage director at Brandy Library in Tribeca. He’ll be taking over the bar at Oakhart as well, as long-time bar manager Albee Pedone departs for a dream job in Maui. While Pedone’s departure leaves big shoes to fill, Cuellar has the bona fides to do so.
“He’s the real deal,” Clore says. “It’s like Scotty Pippin came to play for a local high school team. He’s going to be an amazing addition to the local bar scene.”
Collins said Cuellar will be managing and developing the cocktail program as well as educating the staff about cocktails, while he and Clore curate the wine list. Bar patrons will be treated to a gratis tapa—a small bite of something special cooked up by the chef. “We want to provide exceptional hospitality,” Clore says.
The team hopes the new space will appeal to diners of all stripes. “We want to have options for people to get in and out of here for a reasonable price,” he says. “But if you choose to, you can celebrate, get the high-end fancy bottle of bubbles, and enjoy the caviar service, the large dishes, the special mezcals, and sherries. We will give you all the tools you need to celebrate, big time.”
Hours: 5-10pm, Sunday-Thursday; 5-11pm Fridays and Saturdays.