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International Restaurant SamSara Plans October Opening Following Delays

By Julie Shapiro | August 8, 2011 1:06pm
The bar at SamSara, which is still under construction on Water Street.
The bar at SamSara, which is still under construction on Water Street.
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DNAinfo/Julie Shapiro

DOWNTOWN — After more than six months of delays, the new international-fusion restaurant SamSara is finally close to opening on Water Street.

The eatery — which will feature a 40-foot-long wall of live blossoming plants — was originally supposed to open last winter, but bureaucratic hurdles set the project back.

With the necessary permits finally in hand, owner Pamela Renna now plans to launch SamSara the first week of October. She is spending this summer overseeing the construction of the 69-seat space at 277 Water St., finalizing the gold-and-gray design, and working on the menu with chef Joshua Elliott, formerly of Jean Georges and Stanton Social.

"Now it's moving really quickly, which is exciting," said Renna, a Seaport resident who has always dreamed of opening a restaurant, during a tour of the space recently.

Renna and Elliott are planning a menu of shareable small and large plates, from $9 to $24, each of which incorporates several cultures in a single mouthful. The idea is to recall the neighborhood's past as a place where immigrants mingled the food traditions of their home countries with the influences and ingredients of the New World, Elliott said.

For example, a plate of crab and cod spring rolls ($13) takes its basic inspiration from Chinese cooking but also includes a Mexican black-bean salsa and piquillo peppers, native to Spain and Portugal.

"There's a lack of cultural diversity in the food down here, and that's what we'd like to bring," said Elliott, 36, of Brooklyn.  

One of the restaurant's most unique features will be an 80-square-foot plant wall running the length of the dining room, featuring flowering bromeliads, a tropical plant with bright orange blooms.

Renna has done similar green walls before in her Manhattan Plant Design Experts shop, which is around the corner from SamSara, but this plant display will be much bigger. The flowers are now growing down in Florida and will be one of the last design elements to arrive, Renna said.

Over the course of the last nine months — as Renna and her business partner Eve Luppino faced so many delays at the Department of Buildings and Landmarks Preservation Commission that they were forced to reapply for their liquor license — they have changed some of the restaurant's concept.

Rather than hosting performances and neighborhood open-mic nights, as Renna initially planned, SamSara will keep its focus on the food, she said. She and Elliott also hope to draw corporate clients and have installed a video wall with a computer connection for lunchtime meetings.

The lengthy construction process tested Renna's patience and her understanding of the restaurant's name, which means "to flow on" in Sanskrit and refers to the ever-changing nature of life.

"We are living what SamSara means," Renna said with a smile. "[The restaurant] is going to open when it's supposed to open."