Perhaps no restaurant in the city has quite achieved the spotlight like Estela in the last couple of years, headed by Ignacio Mattos showcasing small-plates oriented and seasonal new American menus. The restaurant was already a hot spot when it opened, and once President Obama visited, it became a true dining destination in the city. I did have overall pleasant experience at Estela during my three previous visits (especially at brunch), and when chef Mattos and his partner Thomas Carter opened up a new Italian place, I was very intrigued. Can a sophomore project exceed its hit predecessor? I’ve already seen from my recent visit to Pasquale Jones (which exceeded my experience at the original Charlie Bird) how chefs can really push their envelope instead of settling for something safe. I’m pleased to say that Café Altro Paradiso was even better than I had expected, and showcased something I haven’t seen at Estela.
The menu at Altro Paradiso looks like that of Estela, concise in length except that the dishes have Italian bent instead of globally influenced dishes at the latter. Compared to the food at Estela, the plating of food looks rather boring and not exactly photogenic. Instead of the colorful beef tartare and sunchoke at Estela, I got this ugly sheet of bison carpaccio with fried potatoes, capers and aged balsamic buried beneath. I was worried that this would turn out to be a greasy dish the moment I saw it, but it was surprisingly light and worked marvelously with the fried potatoes. Fish crudo with caper berries and lemon looked so predicable but nevertheless I enjoyed every silky smooth bite of it.
The portion of pastas is relatively small compared to other places (I thought for a party of two that two pastas for main would be sufficient, but the server warned me that won’t do) and the two dishes that I had tried also looked like run-of-the-mill dishes you would typically see at a cheap Italian restaurant chain. I was again proven wrong. Ravioli di ricotta with fava beans and black truffle had hearty and aromatic feel to it but with very clean flavor, and I still can’t forget the awesome balance of flavor and texture of lasagnette with asparagus, morels and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. The lasagnette will definitely be on my top pastas of the year list for sure! Neither pasta dish had overpowering heaviness to it, and really shows that the kitchen cares about the freshness of ingredients going into it, not necessarily what types of ingredients (there wasn’t a single meat-based ingredient in either dish). For main, my dining companion and I shared swordfish with salsa verde and potatoes. I’ve recently started to become fond of the texture of swordfish, and the one at Altro Paradiso was absolutely perfectly cooked with optimal level between meaty and soft. Only if the seasoning was just a tad moderated! Don’t skip the dessert even though you’re stuffed by this point. Tiramisu was moist and delightful without being overly sweet, and the chestnut honey gelato was also quite pleasant every single scoop.
The restaurant is larger than the cramped space at Estela and thanks to the high ceiling, you would feel like you can actually breathe while dining. Altro Paradiso is still going strong as a hot spot since its opening in February, so booking in advance is mandatory. Like at Estela, Altro Paradiso seems to target a lot of young, handsome local crowds. There is a full bar with Italian-centric wine selections that you should definitely complement your meal with. Café Altro Paradiso shows how you can make Italian cooking fun. You don’t have to work particular magic in plating or technique; just a singular focus on fresh ingredients and execution to ensure balance of flavor and texture is all you need. I would love to come back to this place soon and see how the kitchen evolves over time.
- Creativity: 8.0/10
- Execution: 8.5/10
- Ingredients: 8.5/10
- Flavor: 8.5/10
- Texture: 8.5/10
Address: 234 Spring Street, New York, NY 10013
Telephone: (646) 952-0828