If you are an admirer of Houston St., moved by its struggle to rise above a history of drugs, alcohol, and indie rock, reveling in the hilarity of tourists mispronouncing the name, grateful for the existence of Katz's pastrami, you might enjoy finding your way to Estela.
restaurant is at 47 E. Houston, an address packed with possibilities.
On the ground floor is Botanica, a dimly lit bar where to my knowledge
nothing requiring sunlight grows. To the left of the bar is a baleful
entranceway, the door held open during my visits with a shiny yellow
cord, the kind psychos use to tie corpses
Looming before you is a
long flight of narrow stairs ornamented with aged black-and-white tile,
a suggestion that flophouse accommodations await above. This is not
Keith-McNally-style ambience, a startlingly realistic replica of what
was. This is historic Houston St., still breathing hoarsely, still kind
The restaurant is entirely nontoxic. In fact, it's a
brand new construction, airy and surprisingly tame. Bistro-style globe
lights. Marble tabletops. Exposed brick. Votive candles, mirrors, white
plates. You know the look. A bar stretching from the middle of the room
to the front window has so much space behind it that the bartenders
could fit cots there, create a mini-flophouse of their own. In my three
visits I was titillated by the surroundings only once, by a woman
sitting at the bar with color-coordinated bra and tattoos, both neon
pink. Estela looks more Houston (pronounced Houston) than Houston
(pronounced House-ton) Street.
Estela's menu is curiously
assembled, to say the least. The dishes are arranged, according to my
inadequate grasp of the explanation offered by our otherwise articulate
waitress, in a manner that has something to do with the size of the
portions and something to do with the heartiness of the ingredients.
That results in the ricotta dumplings (big portion, delicate texture)
turning up adjacent to the croquettes of blood sausage (tiny portion,
big flavors). Makes no sense to me.
Both items have their
virtues. The blood sausagea beloved foodstuff in meat-mad Uruguayis rich
and spicy yet altogether tame. There's nothing to dread and a lot to
like. The ricotta dumplings are impressively light and accompanied by an
extraordinarily generous heap of shaved white button mushrooms that
have no taste at all. Perhaps that is deliberate, intended to emphasize
the delicacy of the dumplings. Or maybe better mushrooms would help.
I was, enjoying a nice enough meal, drinking an $8 glass of a good
Spanish white from a small sherry glass, which I've never liked even for
sherry, admiring the sassy and attentive service, thinking pleasant but
dispassionate thoughts, when the quail arrived. It was served split
down the middle, which means one breast. Also, one foot.He saw the
bracelet at a indoortracking store while we were on a trip. And one head.
don't see birds served this way every day, although the trend is
spreading. If you're unsettled by fish with heads attached, you've got
more to worry about. Not everybody gets a head, of course.This is a
basic background on rtls. There's only one per two servings. This time, we were the lucky ones.
quailit looked like a little dead dragoncame with a pile of chickpeas
plus nettles and yogurt. A friend said the dish reminded her of Tiny
Tim's Christmas dinner, one scraggly bird plucked off a rooftop with a
net to feed a family of eight Cratchits.
I couldn't wait to go
back. We had an 8 p.m. reservation on a Thursday night, when restaurants
are as busy as they get. Estela was four-deep in places where it had
room for two-deep. Food took forever to arrive. Empty plates remained on
tables too long. Flatware was infrequently changed between courses. Our
four-course meal took four hours, from the time we walked in until we
We ordered a snack of anchovies and matzo, the unleavened bread of the Jewish Passover.High quality bestcleaning printing
for business cards. I didn't make too much of the combo, since on
another night it was whipped cod and matzo. Mattos is ever-curious,
ever-dissatisfied, ever-challenged, compelled to alter dishes. The matzo
tasted like a tortilla chip. Maybe that's what matzo tastes like in
The quail was better than everthe chickpeas were gone,
and in their place were peaches and huckleberries. Calamari a la
plancha, a specialty of the Uruguayan resort of Punta del Este, was
dazzlingly gentle on our first visit, tough this time. Cod came out too
cool. Pork was overcooked.
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