47 E Houston St (between Mulberry St and Mott St, Nolita)
Fatty Kat Eats: Egg Salad with Boquerones on Matzo, Mussels a la Plancha, Raw Scallop with Green Radish, Avocado and Yuzu, Beef Tartare and Fried Sunchoke, Burrata on Charred Toast with Salsa Verde, Roasted Half Quail, Pork and Mustard Greens, Ricotta Dumplings, Panna Cotta
Above the always classy Botanica (cough), there lies a hidden gem serving the food of angels. This is not the place for something hearty and comfortable. Rather, it's somewhere that will tease and impress your refined side (assuming you have one). It's the kind of place you only want to describe with expletives to emphasize the f*cking amazing food. See? Estela will surprise you with unique ingredients, super fresh ingredients and familiar but funky flavors.
If you're not looking close enough, you will completely miss this place. A tiny menu sits outside 47 E Houston St that directs you up a few steps. You're all set to break into this apartment building before you spot the restaurant's stunning marble bar through a side door. Estela is housed in a narrow space, and the bar is too high for the average patron, including the 5'9 ones. Besides that, the restaurant is beautiful--simple yet sophisticated in a casual way. The food speaks for itself, but I ate it all before it had a chance to speak.
We started with the Egg Salad and Boquerones on Matzo. I've never had a Jewish cracker quite like this, and matzo ball soup is the craziest I've ever gotten. The pillowy egg salad was smooth and creamy and emphasized the elegant boquerones (white anchovies). Anchovies are not my forte, but these were fishy in a beautiful way. The toasted matzo crackled with each nibble, and the entire combination blew us away.
We followed with the Mussels Escabeche on Toast. When you’re so used to eating mussels from a pot of vegetables, sausage, white wine, beer or curry, it’s hard to think about this shellfish outside the shell. In this version, the plump mussel played in a lightly acidic mixture and sat on a lovely bed of crunchy toast with what can only be described as a parsley party. The robust flavors were just enough to avoid overwhelming our senses.
If my daytime job decided to start paying me in raw scallops, I’d stay forever and ever. I’m madly in love with raw scallops, or hotate in Japanese. Estela’s Raw Scallop with Green Radish, Avocado and Yuzu was incredibly fresh. The scallop was sweet in taste and silky in texture. The yuzu citrus served up the scallop with a punch, while the avocado and green radish provided a creamy and crunchy contrast. Drool…
I have a weird thing with beef tartare, but the Beef Tartare and Fried Sunchoke blew me away. Big chunks of raw beef freak me out. I like mine in dainty little chunks, and Estela’s version fits that bill perfectly. The fried sunchoke built the crunchy factor into the dish in a good ratio. The tartare was well-seasoned and even a little tart. I’m no connoisseur, but this is the best beef tartare I’ve ever tasted.
Is it safe to say that burrata is generally good wherever you go? Yes. It’s almost like cheating. But the Burrata on Charred Toast takes it a step further. The salsa verde that goes with this little white cloud is more verde than salsa. It's borderline grassy and complements the creamy burrata very well. I also loved the smokey flavor of the charred toast which gave this cheese some heavier flavors to play with.
I added the Endive Salad as a last minute thought, because we were lacking in the veggie department. Yes, how very motherly of me. The endive itself was fresh and crunchy, but the accompanying blue cheese was a touch too strong and altogether unnecessary. Fortunately, the small, buttery croutons gave the greens a loving hug and quelled our fatty tastes.
The quail may be a little bird, but that doesn't mean you should discount its little bird meat. The bite and a half of the Roasted Half Quail I scored against my two other fatty companions turned out to be incredibly juicy and fatty. My sweet side devoured the creamy sweet potato below, which balanced out the savoriness of the meat and sauce.
Our server was keen on the Pork with Mustard Greens, so we gladly obliged. Good thing too, because this pork melted in our mouths, almost like medium-rare steak. The earthy greens were an integral part of the dish and were almost as substantial as the meat itself. The horseradish cut the umami in the most delicate of ways, and it was almost subtle enough to go unnoticed.
I thought the Ricotta Dumplings were the most surprising part of the meal. The thinly sliced mushrooms and mushroom sauce can best be described as a crack attack. The dumplings resembled featherless gnocchi that no Italian could have fathomed.
Since the meal had us on such a food high, I knew the desserts wouldn't disappoint either. As expected, the Panna Cotta pushed the envelope on a familiar dessert. Someone in the kitchen surely abracadabra'ed the crap out of this dessert. It was creamy in a different kind of way that can only be understood in person. The honey and pollen that topped the custard was from North Fork, LI, so we felt really good about our tiny local contribution.
The Grapefruit Sorbet with Yogurt was a little too summery for a November night, but it was an unbelievably refreshing and tasty palette cleanser. The pink crystal powder looked like a fancy version of Pixy Stix, and it smoothed out the tartness in the sorbet.
I can't wait to go back to Estela! The chef's creative application to familiar dishes and ingredients worked wonders for us. The restaurant could have easily become pretentious with the market-focused menu and discreet location, but I'm glad to report there wasn't one douchebag in sight.