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Catching Up with Danny Mena

It's the night before the grand opening of his new restaurant, Sembrado, and Danny Mena isn't sleeping.

He isn't running through a final pre-opening checklist—Were enough menus printed? Did someone remember to put toilet paper in the bathroom?-- or giving his new kitchen crew a pep talk or having a last-minute conversation with Fany Gerson about Sembrado's dessert menu, which he has put entirely in her capable hands.

Instead, Mena is cooking a four-course, goat-centric dinner for the supper club at Haven's Kitchen. “We're really glad he didn't cancel,” says Julia Sullivan, Haven's' operations manager and the evening's hostess. The supper club's 21 guests, each of whom has paid $165 for a place at the communal table, are unanimous in their praise of Mena at evening's end. “How did you cook the goat?,” asks one guest. “It's so... tender,” she says, clearly in awe of Mena's talents. Sullivan, who moderates the Q&A following the meal, observes that there have never been so many questions for a guest chef at the supper club. One woman declares she will be first in line at Mena's new restaurant when it opens the next day at 11 AM.

“That lady actually did show up,” Mena tells me when we meet a week after the supper club and Sembrado's opening. So did a steady stream of customers, many of whom know Mena and his particular interpretation of Mexican cuisine from his slightly larger Bowery spot, Hecho en Dumbo. Just a week old, Mena says Sembrado already has neighborhood regulars and he's pleased that guests “get” Sembrado's onda.

Next, how Sembrado came to be and what's next...

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