Monday, August 15, 2016


It's cool and lofty, airy and light, as well a paradise should be.  Cafe Altro Paradiso opened up under the esteemed Ignacio Mattos, well known on the scene for his other popular New York restaurant, Estela.  An early table for two was easy enough to procure, but the spacious room filled quickly, living up to the buzz it has been cultivating.  We sat comfortably near the back where a horizontal window, stacked with heavy white porcelain plates waiting to be filled, offers a peek into the kitchen.  Even with the dining room sparsely populated, the activity within was lively, busy toques prepping for the rush soon to come.  An artistic wine bottle
rack looms above the window, colorful foil-wrapped corks creating a geometric patterns in reds and blues and gold.  The menu reads deceptively simplistic, but there was nary a dish that we tried that didn't provide some unexpected, delightful element that defines, fundamentally, the reason we dine out.

And this is a menu that boasts variances daily, according to the gluts and paucities of the market.  So a midsummer's  day found fat sugar snap peas prepared in the uber-trendy "cacio e pepe" mode.  David Chang fashions Nishi's ceci e pepe with it in mind; traditionally, it is a garniture for sturdy spaghetti.  At Paradiso, peas are the culprits.  Brilliantly green, they appeared to be raw, but Mattos plates them warm, barely steamed to tenderness, blanketed in a shroud of shaved pecorino cheese.  I didn't perceive much pepe, but the dish was fantastic even its dearth- Paradiso must have a great source for produce with these succulent, thumb-sized beauties as prime examples.
 There are half a dozen or so pastas to choose from; we chose plush ravioli filled with squash and ricotta, slicked in butter and topped with verdant fronds of nettle and toasted pignoli.  Primi prices range in from $21-23, a little on the pricey side but there is a soulfulness and depth in these, and all Paradiso's cuisine, that warrants the cost.

Part of the value is the ingenuity: almost every dish offers an element of surprise.  Such was the warmth of the peas, and for an entree of roasted hake, the thick filet came assertively seasoned and anointed with a colossal silken blob of luscious aioli, the rough chopped tomatoes alongside featured warm, chunky almonds, unroasted, that had an earthy, nutty quality I initially mistook for somehow pleasantly under-cooked legumes.  They didn't crunch so much as yield their firm texture against the warm tomatoey stew.  This is a must-order dish. Another fish entree, the whole roasted
 branzino, was rife with pin bones which were a little tricky to pick out, but well worth it when you achieved a juicy, fleshy hunk of fish to eat with the accompanying pan-roast of golden corn kernels, nubby, chewy barely and tiny
 chanterelles.  The combination somehow elevated each component until both the plate of grains was licked clean and the skeleton of the fish bared.

We finished with a peach "tart tatin", unconventional in both its choice of fruit and pizza-like consistency.  Slivers of peach fanned over an almondy puff pastry were thin enough to attain a slight chewiness, naked as they were to the heat of the oven.  I wished they would've had a little more jammy peachy flavor, but it's been a tough year for peaches (even the Greenmarket has allowed for a certain percentage of imported ones to compensate for a late freeze that decimated crops)  There wanted a little more peach either in quality or quantity to make this a rave-worthy or crave-worthy dessert, but the barely sweetened, milky whipped cream tasting profoundly of fresh dairy heightened the pleasure factor immensely.

Paradiso keeps things simple, but not so much that you think this is stuff you could cook at home.  There was something unexpected and nuanced in every dish that upsets convention and keeps things provocative.  Everyone has their own idea of paradise, but Ignacios' has something special that couldn't leave any savvy soul disappointed.

     234 Spring Street
     tel. 646.952.0828

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