The first restaurant at the recently opened South Congress Hotel is now serving breakfast, lunch, dinner, and brunch, with the kitchen staying open until midnight on weekends.
Café No Sé, set on the ground floor of the hotel at the corner of Milton Street and South Congress Avenue, was developed by Waterloo Workshop, the in-house concept design department of New Waterloo, the management company of South Congress Hotel, and successful restaurants La Condesa and Sway.
Waterloo Workshop worked with architect Michael Hsu and interior design firm Studio MAI to design and build the space. Outside, a wraparound patio with custom wicker chairs sets the stage for the light and cool interior, decked out with the now ubiquitous whitewashed wood walls. Reclaimed wood tables, butcher blocks, and shelves holding books, vases, and potted plants complete the shabby-chic living room look. The waitstaff station resembles an apartment kitchen complete with an island, reinforcing the comfortable and inviting vibe, and the custom furniture by Studio MAI includes built-in power for laptop and phone chargers.
Helmed by Executive Chef Michael Paley, formerly of the 21c Museum Hotel and Garage Bar in Louisville and the 21c Museum Hotel in Cincinnati, Café No Sé bills itself as "California-inspired American dining." While I am not quite sure what this means, I can safely say that the eclectic, seasonal, new-American menu features intriguing items with a variety of global influences and ingredients.
On this first visit, everything we tasted was fresh and delicious.
The poke bowl offers a Mediterranean take on the classic Hawaiian raw tuna appetizer, seasoned with Castelvetrano olives, crunchy brown rice, pickled jalapeños, grapefruit segments, and an herb vinaigrette. The arugula salad combines unexpected flavors and textures — burrata, fresh green garbanzo beans, orange segments, thinly sliced spicy Fresno chiles, and umami-rich bottarga — that work impressively well together. The parmesan-crusted chicken schnitzel with bitter green salad and grilled lemon also comes with a unique "corn milk" on the side, a lighter yet tasty alternative to gravy. And we couldn't help but notice the juicy burgers the couple next to us was enjoying.
Overseeing the pastry menu is 2015 James Beard Foundation Award semifinalist Amanda Rockman of the highly acclaimed Nico Osteria in Chicago, also known nationwide for her participation in Top Chef: Just Desserts. Pastries are baked fresh daily and in-house, and the restaurant also features a custom Café No Sé coffee blend by local roaster Cuvée Coffee. Needless to say, brunch looks like a very good option at this SoCo newcomer.