Not long after they opened Mosaic on Nov. 18, 2005 – five years ago to the day – co-owners and co-chefs Jonathan Contes and Tate Morris began to feel a frustrating boredom.
They changed their menu with the seasons, as most notable restaurants on Long Island tend to do. But it wasn't enough of an outlet for the fierce culinary creativity driving them both.
Now they change their menu every day, drawing inspiration not necessarily from just the season but from the fresh, varying ingredients themselves along with complementary flavor pairings based on those components. Whatever quality thing they find available at the markets when they arrive to do their shopping. They don't even bother printing a menu anymore.
"It's more like, 'That's cool, that's cool, that's awesome,'" Contes said. "It's more of an interseasonal whimsy. Sometimes things do not match the season."
This past March, for instance, he was surprised to find heirloom tomatoes at one market. He bought a dozen in six different colors and incorporated them into the evening's offering. They have served everything from buffalo-fried sweet breads to flash-grilled calves' heart. The daily creation process is liberating to a degree.
"It keeps you on your toes certainly in terms of thought process," Contes said.
It's fair to say it may take a certain kind of talent to pull it off: the kind found, say, in the kitchen of a place like , Chef Guy Reuge's acclaimed restaurant and tavern at the in Stony Brook, which was once located down the road from Mosaic in St. James. Contes started his restaurant career as a rare walk-on in Mirabelle's kitchen in 2002 and Morris served as the chef de cuisine for several years before they launched Mosaic.
During a recent casual e-mail exchange with Patch, Reuge described Mosaic as a popular eatery. "[They] have done well. I am happy for them," he said.
Their experiences at Mirabelle have served Mosaic's co-owners well.
"It really gave you an opportunity to prepare yourself to have a restaurant where you're in charge of everything," Morris said. "[Guy] gave you the opportunity to create, and I feel like that is the biggest thing you can really say is a direct result of Mirabelle."
But Contes and Morris admit they are starting to feel a new itch. They are confident in their concept, and they report having a satisfied client base in a town they describe as supportive of restaurants, but they are open to the idea of change.
Specifically, a change in scenery. Mosaic is on the small side, tucked into a fairly nondescript strip of stores on Route 25A, and lacks a proper waiting area and bar space for patrons to sit and enjoy a drink before their meal.
"I think we perhaps have something … just a touch larger in mind, but still as accessible and local," Contes said. "Not that we would betray anyone or our clientele and neighborhood, but something with a bit larger of a bar that you could sit at, and maybe like two more tables."
A second location is not on the immediate horizon, mostly due to the logistics of their present synergy as well as the economy. Morris said the trend right now is maintenance rather than growth, but expects that to start changing now that the restaurant has hit its five-year mark.
"A five-year restaurant is kind of few and far between for the most part," he said. "It's at the point where we're reaching the top of the hill and it's going to start to be a little more of coast than a climb."
Check out our latest review of Mosaic.