Are you one of those Estela steak tartar lovers? Well, if you haven’t heard yet, Ignacio Mattos is back at it with another Italian spot a little southwest in the “Hudson Square” neighborhood aka just west of SoHo. The restaurant has an entirely different vibe, offering high ceilings, wooden floors and tables, black and white framed photos on the wall, and space. It’s not as personal or sexy as Estela, but the staff is super friendly and knowledgeable. The menu is divided into Starters, Pastas, and Mains. Like it’s Nolita sister, these are best indulged as shared plates and at a “served as they are ready” pace. My favorite starter happens to be the cute little Shrimp Focaccia sandwiches. These bite sized goodies can be shared by no more than a party of 4 as they come two to an order. If you want your own, make sure to order accordingly. Or you can test me but I know you’ll end up with a second order when you realize how bomb these little guys truly are. My #2 favorite was, of course, the carpaccio, and I actually liked it better than Estela. Although it’s a completely different preparation, it’s made with bison instead of beef and served whole (kind of like how lox is served) as opposed to chopped. It’s super flavorful, meaty, tender, and something you don’t see on many menus.
Hopefully, the octopus will improve because ours was pretty stretchy and stiff. The Mozzarella di bufala with sun-dried tomatoes, pine nuts, and arugula did, in fact, melt in our mouths. Add a round of the bread to your order to soak up this guy. On to the dainty pastas: I have no idea what we were thinking skipping that gnocchi on the first round. Yes, I said first round. After our first order and completed meal, we had to put in a second at the end because our taste buds were craving more! Thank goodness because we met the best dish of the night at this point. The Gnocchi with cavolo nero, sausage, and pecorino stagionato instantly made my mouth water and my eyes close due to genuine bliss. It’s buttery, rich, soothing, and most of all memorable. That’s all I am looking for right now. What item/restaurant can actually keep my attention for a few days post meal, and what makes me feel amazing? This dish is definitely on that list. and so is the gnocchi from Estela which are the fluffiest pillows of love.
Café Altro Paradiso has a little bit of work to do to push more of these dishes over the edge. Not because they aren’t good enough, but just because I know what the potential is in this particular kitchen. The style of dining and menu is exactly what I want when I venture out these days. Small plates that can feed up to four happily, enough on the menu that you are excited to try, and designed in a way that you can order a majority of the menu while still feeling well at the end. The idea behind this is that you don’t have orders remorse and you can reach an understanding of the artist’s (chef’s) intentions on the plates. This restaurant is perfect for the neighborhood and has good feelings inside. You can wine and dine yourself for hours here.