The most prominent feature of Rayuela, the soon-to-open "freestyle Latino" eatery at 165 Allen Street, is the two-story olive tree that sits in the middle of the restaurant. Like most else in the establishment, the tree was imported.
"I spent three days without sleep looking for this tree in California," co-owner Hector Sanz told The Observer. "It is a menzanillo, a rare type of olive tree."
Rayuela, which means "hopscotch" in Spanish, will open next Friday and join a host of other modern Latin restaurants (Mercadito, Centrico) that have sprouted up downtown over the last few years. However, Mr. Sanz makes it clear that it will be different from its predecessors.
"We will keep the structure of traditional dishes, but the actual ingredients used will be unconventional and come from all over," he explained. "The wine will come from Spain, the fish from Chile and Hawaii. Even the stones in the bathroom are from Peru."
Paul Fernandez, the former head of the National Supermarket Association and a co-owner, was the main reason the trio was able to score the 7,000-square-foot space. When asked, Mr. Sanz remained tight-lipped as to how they came upon the space, only saying that Mr. Fernandez "knew the owners of the building" and that the lease was for over 10 years. According to a broker in the neighborhood, the tenants are paying around $100 per square foot a year.
Unfortunately for Rayuela, 165 Allen Street has not been the most successful address for restaurants. Dish, the restaurant/cooking school which opened in 2002, had plywood on its windows just two years later.
Mr. Sanz is determined to make the fresh restaurant a success, though.
"I've invested my life savings in this place," he said. "It will work."