This afternoon, downtown New Haven will see the opening of yet another new restaurant in an area of the city that local developers hope is on the rise as a regional dining destination.
Today marks the opening of Kudeta, a pan-Asian restaurant with a sophisticated style that owner Elaine Chao said she hopes will attract visitors and locals to the “happening” Temple Street area. Kudeta joins the approximately 15 restaurants — many of them newcomers — already open on that stretch, and soon it too will be joined by at least three other restaurants with international flavors of their own.
In its location on the corner of Temple and Crown streets, Kudeta has filled part of the vacancy left behind years ago by the former Macy’s Men’s Department Store as part of a recent trend in the culinary growth of the area. The restaurant, with its colorful Asian-inspired interior, is evidence of downtown New Haven’s growing reputation as the new place to eat, said Chris Nicotra, managing member of Olympia Properties, the developers of the site.
“Experienced restaurateurs realize that New Haven is the place to be,” he said. “People recognize New Haven as a cultural capital.”
Nicotra said the approximately 6,000 square foot restaurant is a complete shift from what had been there before, as the restaurant owners had the location almost entirely gutted and redesigned by a French designer with most of its furnishings selected by Chao over several trips to Asia.
To complement the tables and hand-made batik curtains from Bali, as well as the locally designed glass “wall,” the menu prepared by Chinese chef Herry Darbi, who moved to the United States about 35 years ago from Indonesia, features food inspired by various Asian cuisines, especially that of China, Chao said.
“Every year, I travel with Herry to Asia,” Chao said.
Though Darbi mainly focuses on Chinese cuisine, Chao said he has also been greatly influenced by the flavors of other Asian countries, such as Singapore and Thailand. The planned menu features food ranging from Pad Thai to Indonesian Rendang Beef and Spiced Chicken Samosa.
Nicotra said the fact that Darbi is also the chef at one of Chao’s other restaurants, The Little Kitchen, in Westport, makes him confident that Kudeta will attract the customer base of Chao’s other establishments to the area. In order to appeal more to local residents and workers, Kudeta will also feature take-out.
“I believe their opening there will bring new people into town,” Nicotra said. “And it will cement our reputation of being the restaurant capital of Connecticut.”
This reputation is what Chao said first attracted her to New Haven and this particular location, and she said she is not particularly concerned about safety in the area.
“It’s a great town,” she said. “I like the diversity of the people. It’s a very happening market.”
Chao is not alone in her attraction to New Haven, as her restaurant joins two other recently opened restaurants in the former Macy’s, and it will be joined later this month by Safari Caffeine Lounge, a cafe whose Moroccan owner also has several locations in Europe. Cocina Mexican Grill, which is part of a Tennessee chain, will also be opening nearby in May.
Across the street from Kudeta, Barcelona Restaurant and Wine Bar, a Spanish restaurant with a tapas bar and wine bar, will be opening in late summer. Owner Andy Phorzhimer, who owns four other Connecticut locations of the same restaurant, said he was attracted to the area by its vicinity to cultural venues such as theaters and by the locals’ understanding of good food.
“Our favorite markets are where people have an understanding of European eating, which tapas represents, and New Haven understands that,” Phorzimer said. “Between the tapas menu and the full menu, we have a lot to offer. I think people in New Haven will appreciate the quality of our product without waiters in tuxedos.”
The biggest complaint about the increased concentration of restaurants has been about the limited parking in the area, Nicotra said, but he said parking should not be a problem.
Tony Rescigno, president of the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce, said he is excited about the continued expansion of downtown as a center for restaurants, as both restaurateurs and customers follow one another to the area.
“On the grand chain scheme, wherever there’s a Burger King, there’s a McDonald’s, and wherever there’s a McDonald’s there’s a Subway,” he said. “They know that where there are restaurants, there are people. And when there’s variety it’s even easier.”
Rescigno said this effect is analogous to the restaurant growth downtown, where the success rate has been strong by national standards. He said he also hopes this trend will soon apply to retail, as stores take advantage of the crowds drawn to the restaurants.
Restaurant owners cited Criterion Cinemas, also located on Temple Street, as a factor in choosing their locations. Joe Masher, general manager of Bowtie Cinema Group, which runs the theater, said the theater has been part of the impetus for redevelopment in the area since it opened in November 2004.
“The theater was the first thing on the block when everything was still vacant, so certainly the theater helped the resurgence of the two-block area,” he said. “Theaters and restaurants are natural business partners, so [the new openings are] a positive effect for both.”
Kudeta is open for lunch and dinner every day except Monday.