My Dinner at Estela

October 2, 2016

The B train was the subway from hell – stopping for at least 5 minutes between each station so that an air of claustrophobic desperation began to fill the car. I emerged, at last, to pouring rain, and trudged grimly down Houston Street, late for our big family reunion dinner.

But the moment I walked into the cozy dark warmth of Estela, it all faded away.  This is a happy place, one that manages the special magic of restaurants, cocooning you in a little bubble during the time that you are there. It is, I might also mention, the most perfect place I’ve ever found to feed a small crowd. The table in the alcove in the back, which seats ten if you don’t mind squeezing, makes you feel part of the festive room and somehow also private.  It was, in fact, a perfect night.

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We began with these oysters in a yuzu mignonette.  How could they possibly be anything but wonderful?

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I’ve always loved the restaurant’s icy chunky beef tartare. Laced with crisp little bits of sunchoke it is a dance of many textures, and a joy to eat.

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Mussels in escabeche on toast.

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Burrata in salsa verde on charred bread.  This is the only dish I had reservations about; the salsa takes the cheese to its complicated acid side when it really yearns to be sweet and simple.

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This, on the other hand, is the opposite: the edgy bitterness of endive is tempered with a rich, round filling of walnuts, anchovies and ubriaco cheese.  It’s one of those dishes that stops you in your tracks, and makes you taste it thoughtfully, again and again.

 

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I’ve always loved Estela’s fried rice, dark with squid ink, dense with romesco and utterly irresistible.  It would have been my favorite dish if the two that followed had not been so intensely delicious.

 

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Those are mushrooms on top.  Hiding shyly underneath are little pecorino-laced ricotta dumplings of such ethereal lightness the mushrooms seem necessary, the only thing that keeps them from floating off the plate.

Sadly, at this point my family tired of holding the candles up to photograph the dishes, so I can’t show you the wonderful steak that came next. But trust me when I say that although it was just a few bites, this was memorable meat, the kind you so rarely find anymore, flavored with the unmistakable taste of age.

There were desserts of course, all lovely, and the evening rolled merrily on.  It was a terrible shock to go outside and find the rain still coming down, the traffic terrible. Having spent a few sheltered hours in Estela, the return to reality was hard to take.

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