Saturday, June 19, 2010


Tapas are a great way to dine out. Rather than each person ordering an individual meal, everyone can enjoy a taste of each dish. And since portions are small, it’s the perfect opportunity to order multiple plates, each one offering new flavors, spices, and textures.

At ALTA, located at 64 West 10th Street in New York City, I enjoyed an amazing meal of tapas with great company—my two sisters, Sonya and Tara, and Tara’s friend Suzanne.

We started off the night with drinks at the bar as we waited for our table to be ready. There was tasty sangria, robust Rioja wine, and mojitos. The mojitos at ALTA were phenomenal—light and refreshing, just as a mojito should be. Thankfully they didn’t overload the drinks with sugar as many bars make the unfortunate mistake of dousing the clean flavors with cloying syrup. Instead the mojitos were loaded with large leaves of bright green mint and just a hint of sweetness—simply lovely.

We ordered a bottle of Rioja to accompany the meal—a red wine from Spain that’s the perfect companion for tapas. To start we ordered a medley of Moroccan cured and Arbequina olives called Bella di Cerignola. They were delicious, salty olives that ranged in size and color. The most interesting were the super tiny olives—I’m not sure what they were called, but they were pretty damn cute and tasty.

Bella di Cerignola: Moroccan Cured and Arbequina Olives

After the that the dishes just kept flowing—crispy balls of fried goat cheese swimming in a little pool of lavender-infused honey; striped bass sashimi with truffle soy vinaigrette, crisp artichoke, and chive oil; beef Carpaccio with horseradish crème frâiche foam and orange supremes; avocado relleno with crabmeat and shrimp, frisee, and orange segments (we got two of these with one on the house because they had accidently made an extra plate in the kitchen); decadent seared foie gras on pan roasted brioche with mango ginger chutney, Persian pistachios, and bee pollen; pulled pork empanadas with sweet and spicy cilantro dipping sauce; braised short rib of beef with beet-barbaresco taglierini and fresh grated horseradish; and house-made Jonah crab ravioli with asparagus, sun-dried tomato, brown butter, and verjus emulsion.

As the meal progressed I became dizzy with the variety of flavors, the quality of ingredients, the rustic red wine, and the exquisite execution of each and every plate—each bit was a new journey in salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and savory (umami). Together they combined to release the perfect bust of happy chemicals, warming the body and tingling the mind and taste buds.

While each dish was excellent and decadent, I was particularly taken with the beef Carpaccio and the seared foie gras. Both dishes were completely new experiences for me. I’ve been interested in ordering beef Carpaccio for quite a while now, but every time the opportunity arose the person I was with wasn’t as thrilled as I was at the prospect of raw beef, and not knowing if I’d like it or not I didn’t want it to go to waste if it wasn’t to my taste. But when I saw it on the menu at ALTA I knew the moment was right—and it certainly was. It arrived with the beef spread thin and bright red, almost glowing on the plate, with just the light of the candle on the table enhancing its delicate appearance. It was adorned with horseradish crème frâiche foam and orange supremes. The taste was exquisite—the garnishes elevated the flavor of the beef to heights that would make one swoon.

Carpaccio of Beef with Horseradish Crème Frâiche Foam and Orange Supremes

But then there was the seared foie gras on pan roasted brioche with mango ginger chutney, Persian pistachios, and bee pollen. It was absolutely heavenly. Now, I’ve had pâté before, but I’ve never ventured into the realm of foie gras. I’m definitely hooked. The liver melted into the brioche like butter—it was smooth and velvety and rich and sensual and everything you could ask for in one simple bite, like a universe of flavors condensed into one mouthful. Beautiful.

Seared Foie Gras on Pan Roasted Brioche with Mango Ginger Chutney, Persian Pistachios, and Bee Pollen

The best part about the whole meal is that my “vegetarian” sister, Tara, ate her first piece of red meat in about ten years. I was so proud. Tara was a vegetarian for a very, very long time. About a year-and-a-half ago she started eating fish, and more recently she added chicken to her diet again. Suzanne had also refrained from eating red meat for years, but at ALTA they both unleashed, consuming the raw beef Carpaccio, seared foie gras, and braised short ribs with gusto…there was no holding back. My friend Jonas has been quoted as saying that eating meat again after being a vegetarian is like getting over an eating disorder. So for all you vegetarians out there who are ready to rid yourself of your wayward diet, apparently ALTA is the place to do it.

If you’re in the city, do yourself a favor and head to ALTA for delicious tapas, good wine, and an unforgettable dining experience. You won’t regret it.

Fried Goat Cheese and Lavender Infused Honey

Striped Bass Sashimi with Truffle Soy Vinaigrette, Crisp Artichoke, and Chive Oil

Avocado Relleno with Crabmeat and Shrimp, Frisee, and Orange Segments

Pulled Pork Empanadas with Sweet and Spicy Cilantro Dipping Sauce

Braised Short Rib of Beef with Beet-Barbaresco Taglierini, and Fresh Grated Horseradish

House-made Jonah Crab Ravioli with Asparagus, Sun-dried Tomato, Brown Butter, and Verjus Emulsion

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