Note: None of these restaurants are featured in NYC Restaurant Week deals. BUT they are still worth going to.
Off the corner of Lafeyette and E Houston lies the “passion project” of famed Food Network chef Bobby Flay.
Though I had reservations about eating at a potentially touristy, embellished/pretentious venue, Gato did not disappoint. It’s dishes ran more on the overpriced side than reasonable, but at the same time some felt like you were simply paying extra for the ambiance.
Which while we’re on the subject - Ambiance Tax is a real thing. Think about how much more rooftop drinks always are – you pay for the view, of course, but half the time you’re also paying for the scene. The literal “see or be seen” scene. Scene.
To start off we had 3 dishes from the Bar section of the menu. These are small, bite-sized portions, which is annoying when most diners are 2 people, sharing. For $21 the dishes aren’t expensive, per se, but not cheap to be paying for one bite of roasted eggplant each.
Next up was the famous, heavily-talked about on the food scene – scrambled eggs dish. You think “Wow Bobby really must think we are fools to pay $17 for eggs” but they REALLY are THAT good. I mean, you're out to eat in New York City, you will be swindled no matter what - might as well be swindled for something that is delicious.
Served with a side of grilled focaccia topped with tomato jam, the ramekin is filled perfectly creamy, mildly spicy eggs. The secret (I believe) is the Calabrian chili oil used, and possibly cooking the eggs slowly over low heat for a creamier consistency.
For our mains, we split the highly raved-about octopus plate, and the kale and egg paella. Throughout the meal, you can tell there is homage paid to simple, basic ingredients and he does it well.
The octopus was by far my favorite – grilled to perfection for a crispy outside and beautifully tender inside, the consistency was knockout. Then came the sauces. There was a lonesome shishito pepper placed atop the solo tentacle, but more so for aesthetics than taste. The real flavor came from the slightly sweet vinegar Dijon sauce and crunchy bacon bits. I was quizzing the waiter over the sauce because I simply couldn’t get over the divine pairing of something so light and refreshing with such a rustic flavor as the octopus itself.
The paella, however, needed a sauce. I would say it erred on the underwhelming side for flavor except when I asked for a hot sauce, I received something magical. It was peppery, vinegary, definitely spicy but thicker than your average Tabasco – and it complimented the saltier, blander rice with its briny taste. The artichokes in the dish, nevertheless, were fried to a crispy perfection. They have a reasonable wine list to boot, and it seems the place is always packed.
I would recommend for casual dates or when the parents are in town.
Once on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, Estela has been on my dining bucket list since I moved to NYC.
It was much less pretentious than I envisioned (seeing as most of the Top 50 are fine-dining, white tablecloth places like Le Bernardin and Gramercy Tavern) and gave off a chic-without-trying vibe.
We started off with lamb ribs with charmoula and honey, fried arroz negro with squid and romesco (famed dish here) and beef tartare (to be honest, nothing to write home about). The ribs were fall of the bone tender, and spiced fabulously. The rice was surprisingly crunchy, which in Dominican tongue is called “concon”, or the crunchy bottom of the rice pan. There was a good bit of depth to the flavors there as well.
A successful meal I would recommend for Classy First Dates (think dim lighting and tapas-style sharable plates), or a bougie girls’ dinner (groups of 4 or less) because of the intimate setting.