Jason Neroni Spotted in Cantina's Kitchen, ‘America's Most Wanted’ Not Called

Jason Neroni

Jason Neroni in the kitchen at Cantina.Photo: Melissa Hom

East Village hot-spot-in-the-making Cantina is the work of many Jasons. First theres honcho Swamy, former owner of Movida. Then theres designer Volenec, who also did Allen and Delancey and has worked with Serge Becker. And finally theres consulting chef Neroni. Sure, we poked fun at Neroni during his brush with the law, but given the quality of his tasting menus pork shoulder dulce de leche (the full menu rolls out November 1, with beer and wine, brunch, and delivery to follow), we were glad to see him in Cantinas three-by-four open kitchen rather than a jail cell (the jail cell probably wouldve been more spacious, but not as romantically lit). As soon as he put his knife down, we asked him what became of his beef with Porchetta, and where hes been since then.

What happened with the whole Porchetta thing?
It was never pursued. Mr. Ozersky and the Eater boys blew it a little too out of proportion I was never put in jail or handcuffed or held over night. I went to the police station with my lawyer and he talked to the cops, and that was it.

Whatve you been up to since then?
I took the summer off after my house collapsed last year. A fireplace went through my ceiling, and I lost my house while all that shit was going on. I got an opportunity to do something in Portland this summer, working in a sausage shop and at a restaurant called Toro Bravo.

So how did you get involved with Cantina?
When I was done with that, I went back to New York because I found an apartment. [Swamy and I] had the same press agent; he gave me a call.

The open kitchen is about three feet by four feet whats it like working in such a small space?
This is smaller than the original Tasting Room [where Neroni cooked], and with less equipment. Its very tough theres a lot of juggling. There are two burners and youre constantly moving stuff to get in and out of the oven. Its not a lot of fun.

Some people have referred to the place as a Cuban restaurant, but the menu is more Spanish.
Cuban was originally what Swamy wanted, but in this neighborhood, theres so many great Dominican, Cuban, and Puerto Rican restaurants. Im not going to compete with them because they do it better. My grandfather was born in Cuba and grew up in Puerto Rico, and some of the stuff he taught my grandmother to cook ended up on the menu.

What are you experimenting with for when the new menu rolls out around November 1?
We arent really pushing the envelope, as some might say, aside from the almond butter with lambs tongue and membrillo. I was a chef at 71 Clinton when they took it off the menu because it wasnt selling very well. Here it sells really well on weekdays.

Youre open till midnight now, but youll eventually serve food till 4:45 a.m.?
Well have a limited menu at nighttime a sandwich or two and maybe empanada and olives and nuts.

What are you working on after you leave Cantina after the New Year?
There is something Im working on, but I cant talk about it. In the meantime Im going to be in and out. My replacement Jesi Solomon, who was a sous-chef at Stanton Social, is already here.

Related: Jason Neroni Arrested, Taken into Custody
Jason Neroni Breaks His Silence on Being a Desperate Chef


Somewhere in Cantina, Jason Neroni is waiting.cite>Photo: Melissa Hom