Estela is a vigorously seasonal restaurant, drink-oriented with a heavy emphasis on flavor- heavy flavor, in fact. Respectively, what we experienced this night is that Ignacios' food is much better partnered with a selection of tipples rather than a traditional menu. The assertive seasoning can sometimes kick you upside the head, compounded one dish after another. But thoughtfully selected and paired with a beverage, individual dishes themselves are robust and exciting. Using a literary analogy contributed by my dining companion, even if each chapter of a story is poetically and artfully composed, sometimes the overall book doesn't really work as a whole. This is precisely how we felt at Estela, although there were some arguably wonderful chapters throughout the night.
Our server suggested a Riesling over the local, unfamiliar Edelzweiker I was curious about, but after sampling both, I went with my initial choice. His atypical riesling was a powerhouse to be sure, boldly flavorful and gripped with acidity, but especially given the chef's intensity, the milder, more subtle wine played better with the food than would have such a profound glass. I did, however, sense a smidge of disdain by our server for overriding his suggestion, but that might've been my imagination. But when we started ordering, I distinctly mentioned two dishes I most certainly wasn't interested in trying: it seemed easier to eliminate the less appealing dishes in favor of the myriad ones that tantalized. And sure enough, the kitchen brought out BOTH the dishes I had blacklisted. I cannot be sure that this was intentional, but it struck me as odd, as well as confusing. At any rate, it's never terrible to get an extra dish or two to get a better idea of what our chef is up to, especially when you're dining with someone with a more open palate than one's own.
fresh, crusty bread, it made a winning (if filling)
beginning to our repast. Actually, had there been a soup or some other light appetizer, I
might've ended right there and called it a meal (if I were a normal person).
|Kohlrabi, persimmons, cheese, hazelnuts|
|Endive, anchovy, cheese, walnuts|
|Brussels, pepitas, blue cheese|
|Sheep's milk dumpling, mushroom|
Mains escaped nuts for the most part, but cheese was certainly integral to rich sheep's milk dumplings, swathed with raw mushroom sliced so thinly they melt on your tongue like communion wafers. These plump pillows oozed with resounding cheesiness, so the earthy mushrooms were a welcome counter to their
|Spiced lamb ribs, cilantro, honey|
|Cod, chanterelles, turnip|
Two eggy desserts were offered, a flan and a chocolate panna cotta if I remember correctly. We didn't get them: I had topped out at around the dumplings. We happily ordered mint teas upon which to sip, enjoying the energy of the packed room (as well as needing some staid digestion time). Estela is a hot-spot of the moment however, and soon enough the g.m. approached us with a gallantly suave offer: he would love to buy us a drink at the bar, if we wouldn't mind relinquishing the table to waiting diners. I thought that this situation could not have been handled better. If only our server had inherited his grace. We declined his offer in favor of a stroll in the crisp wintery air- better for burning off a little of the hearty fodder, anyways. Luckily, it was the dishes the worked and the manager's dextrous handling of table turnover that I will remember- I'll lump our ignorant waiter with the excess of nuts and their accompanying cheese as forgiveable aberrations.
47 East Houston Street
New York, NY 10012 (212) 219-7693