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Into the Blue: Chef Camille Becerra and Her Restaurant Navy Soho

Into the Blue: Chef Camille Becerra and Her Restaurant Navy Soho

Set sail on a culinary and visual expedition at Navy, a welcoming New York City neighborhood restaurant with a maritime vibe. Nourishing food and singular style are served up in equal parts for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Many of the ideas travel well, so you can be inspired to make them in your own home.

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Two of my most stylish colleagues, gushing accolades for the design, invited me to scope out the food at Navy, an of-the-moment restaurant with an entirely original aesthetic. The name has a double entendre -- evoking both the color and the military meaning -- that serves as conceptual inspiration for this cool canteen, situated along a quiet yet famous street in New York City’s Soho. Childhood friends and business partners Akiva Elstein and Matt Abramcyk have conjured a comfortable sailing-ship-meets-living-room atmosphere through the clever use of textiles, including salvaged tents and naval signal flags, and vintage lighting that envelops diners in a comfortable communal cocoon. “Although we have a maritime theme, I didn’t want to overdo it or get gimmicky,” says Elstein. “Depending on where you sit, you may not even notice it. You can come to the restaurant many times and still see things you haven’t seen before.”

The food from effervescent chef and partner Camille Becerra strikes a similarly distinctive note. She was greatly influenced by her experience as a young cook trailing a macrobiotic chef. “The philosophy that eating is a way of life has continued to inspire me and drive my cooking,” Becerra says. She coaxes out the complexity within natural flavors, and performs a delicate balancing act of salty, sweet, sour, and spicy notes. She also employs pickling with abandon, for results that play on the palate with surprising juxtapositions of crunch and tang.

This team has hit upon the right formula for how people want to eat and hang out right now. Pop in any time throughout the day -- for a cozy breakfast pastry; a market salad for lunch; late-afternoon oysters and rose; a dinner of fresh-caught fish, hanger steak, or vegetable dishes -- and you’ll find a vibrant spot, pulsating with warmth. An ease has taken shape here, as though Navy had been living on this block forever.

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On the Menu

The Flavors of Navy

“The idea of food being both healthy and chic is important to me,” says chef Camille Becerra. In her cooking, she emphasizes fish, vegetables, and whole grains, and she devises her menus daily from farm and fisherman deliveries. “It is meant to fuel your body, heal it, and also provide your mind a moment of contentment,” she adds. Those may be serious goals for a meal, but big flavor and a sense of playfulness are also high on the chef’s list, as she combines ingredients in uncommon but uncomplicated ways. “Taking underutilized veggies and making them the star of a dish is a way to make food fun,” she says. Camille loves it when her diners are inspired to make something similar at home.

Navy by Design

“I fell in love with materials that the military made and used around World War II,” says Akira Elstein of the inspiration behind Navy. “I wanted to do a seafood restaurant, so everything developed from there.” The space is so comfortable and lived in, it feels like it could have come together organically. But it takes a lot of skill to make something appear this effortless. Elstein has mixed materials -- fabric, leather, and various metals -- with a careful hand for truly considered results.

  • Stylish & Utilitarian
    Stylish & Utilitarian

    Leather storage straps -- a recurring detail -- are snapped to the wall to hold magazines. “They maintain the utilitarian aesthetic, and the leather only gets better with age,” says Elstein.

  • Bold Contrasts
    Bold Contrasts

    A custom-made two-tone table is a crisp, graphic touch among timeworn accents.

  • Well-Dressed Wines
    Well-Dressed Wines

    More leather straps hold bottles of wine.

  • Custom Meets Vintage
    Custom Meets Vintage

    A circa-1950s banquette from a bowling alley is paired with custom tables and vintage schoolhouse chairs, making an intimate nook that encourages lingering. Industrial light fixtures shine toward the ochre walls for a soft, golden glow. "I use tons of lights," says Elstein. "There must be 50 light fixtures in the small space, all giving off a low, soft, attractive light."

  • Designer Portrait
    Designer Portrait

    “I’m pretty obsessed with the details,” says co-owner Akiva Elstein.

  • Lots of Color
    Lots of Color

    Flower arrangements by Taylor Patterson of Fox Fodder Farm in Brooklyn are loose and unconventional.

  • Walls with Character
    Walls with Character

    After he started collecting fabrics -- including vintage military canvas and French linen -- Elstein had a dream about covering walls with them. He brought the dream to life here; the fabrics bring texture, character, and a soothing color palette to the room. Copper lines the walls beneath; Elstein “aged” it (with a chemical treatment) to make it lustrous but not shiny.

  • Light & Dark
    Light & Dark

    Curtains made from antique Japanese indigo hang in front of the windows at night; during the day, they are unsnapped and removed to let in natural light.

  • Shades of Indigo
    Shades of Indigo

    Patchwork-style fabrics underscore a saved-and-salvaged philosophy.

  • More Leather
    More Leather

    Wider patches of leather hold menu cards.

    Visit Navy Soho for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

  • Stylish & Utilitarian
    Stylish & Utilitarian

    Leather storage straps -- a recurring detail -- are snapped to the wall to hold magazines. “They maintain the utilitarian aesthetic, and the leather only gets better with age,” says Elstein.

  • Lots of Color
    Lots of Color

    Flower arrangements by Taylor Patterson of Fox Fodder Farm in Brooklyn are loose and unconventional.

  • Bold Contrasts
    Bold Contrasts

    A custom-made two-tone table is a crisp, graphic touch among timeworn accents.

  • Walls with Character
    Walls with Character

    After he started collecting fabrics -- including vintage military canvas and French linen -- Elstein had a dream about covering walls with them. He brought the dream to life here; the fabrics bring texture, character, and a soothing color palette to the room. Copper lines the walls beneath; Elstein “aged” it (with a chemical treatment) to make it lustrous but not shiny.

  • Well-Dressed Wines
    Well-Dressed Wines

    More leather straps hold bottles of wine.

  • Light & Dark
    Light & Dark

    Curtains made from antique Japanese indigo hang in front of the windows at night; during the day, they are unsnapped and removed to let in natural light.

  • Custom Meets Vintage
    Custom Meets Vintage

    A circa-1950s banquette from a bowling alley is paired with custom tables and vintage schoolhouse chairs, making an intimate nook that encourages lingering. Industrial light fixtures shine toward the ochre walls for a soft, golden glow. "I use tons of lights," says Elstein. "There must be 50 light fixtures in the small space, all giving off a low, soft, attractive light."

  • Shades of Indigo
    Shades of Indigo

    Patchwork-style fabrics underscore a saved-and-salvaged philosophy.

  • Designer Portrait
    Designer Portrait

    “I’m pretty obsessed with the details,” says co-owner Akiva Elstein.

  • More Leather
    More Leather

    Wider patches of leather hold menu cards.

    Visit Navy Soho for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

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