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threeshovelI’ll admit that a good deal of last year’s lauded openings–Estela, Contra, Piora, Narcissa, All’Onda–blurred to the point where I didn’t feel the urge to try any of them. Clearly, it’s all the A endings. Estela ended up being a standout, though. It’s kind of amazing how much a good seat (booth for two, ftw) and engaged service can color a dining experience. (For contrast, Glasserie, also for a birthday dinner a few days earlier, was kind of maddening.) It’s also one of those places where you might end up spending more than you intended to–and you’ll still leave with a good impression.

estela salt cod & potato croquettes with borani

Salt cod and potato croquettes with what I’m just now realizing was borani, a Persian spinach yogurt dip that I’ve made and wasn’t quite like this.

estela oysters with trout roe & yuzu

The oysters, super briny and tart from the trout roe and yuzu, were a nice contrast to the also snacky dish that preceded them. They had a spicy finish, despite no indication that they included a spicy component.

estela beef tartare with sunchoke

The hyper-red beef tartare mixed with crisped sunchokes nearly resembled a plate of chopped tomatoes rolled in cornflakes. Each bite was both crunchy and luscious with bread hearty enough to match. Slightly oddball and definitely one of the best dishes.

estela burrata with salsa verde & charred bread

Normally, I wouldn’t bother with burrata in a restaurant but assumed it would have to be more than just cheese and oozing cream (as delicious as that is). The green vegetal pool added a freshness that moved the dish from its rich Italian origins.Yes, there’s charred bread as a base.

estela endive, walnuts, anchovy & ubriaco rosso

The super orangey endive arrived unexpectedly; perhaps someone thought we weren’t getting enough vegetables or were missing an important dish. It didn’t originally jump out at me because it seemed austere. Of course it wasn’t because of the strong cheese (urbriaco rosso) and walnuts.

estela lamb ribs with charmoula and honey

Lamb ribs are having a moment, and this version, heavy with cumin and coated with jalapeño-spiked charmoula and topped with more cilantro and mint, is right on. (Estela really likes the color green and so do I.)

estela pork

The pork wasn’t really necessary, especially after those lamb ribs. The meat itself was perfect and rosy, but where I liked the greenness with the burrata, the herb paste hugging one side of the hunk was almost too grassy.

There’s no grief if you don’t order a bottle of wine, which tend to be expensive in comparison to the food (I’d already had a cocktail at the bar and a few beers downstairs at Botanica where they were also playing New Order). Even the wines by the glass are presented thoughtfully–after sampling three “unusual” whites,” I picked a  Jura chardonnay.

As an aside, there was what appeared to be a hot teen (though possibly older since he was clearly drinking) dining on charcuterie at the bar when I first arrived. He was clearly a somebody, based on the attention he was receiving, though I’m fairly certain it was not Flynn McGarry.

Estela * 47 E. Houston St., New York, NY

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