A month ago, my friend Davis emailed a nymag article that listed where to get the “Best (fill in the blank).” After perusing the list, I voted that we check out the gnocchi at Estela, a gastropub in Nolita that serves Mediterranean-inspired fare.
After bounding up the stairs to the nondescript entrance in the rain, I cursed myself for not bringing an umbrella. My anger dissipated when I saw my dear friends Julia and Davis at the bar. Sipped some of Julia’s delicious Rosemary Society cocktail (Gin, pear brandy, lemon, grapefruit, rosemary) and recounted my recent adventures in Barcelona, San Sebastian, and Copenhagen. We were unable to get a reservation in the packed, tiny gastropub but were able to wedge into a nook at the bar.
The bartender cheerfully told us that the plates were meant for sharing and gave his recommendations on what to order.
We started with a plate of cod and potato croquettes ($13) that were delicious. Perfectly fried outside and chunks of cod that melted. The cold and creamy borani (yogurt) complemented the croquettes nicely. Ten minutes later, a second round of croquettes were mistakenly sent to our table. The bartender shrugged and smiled while we devoured this comped app.
Next up was the mussels escabeche (pickled fish) on toast ($14). The acidity of the vinegar went well with the creamy mussels and the toast. The green herb sauce had a flavor that I couldn’t place. Refreshing and light. The three of us agreed this sauce was something special.
Off to a great start but then it went downhill. The burrata with salsa verde and toast ($15) was rather bland and the texture was too hard. We’ve all had better burrata elsewhere. Davis recommends the fluffy version at Bar Pitti.
The beef tartare with sunchoke ($15) had the colors of autumn - streaks of yellow, orange, and red. If only the dish was nearly as vibrant. Decent but nothing mindblowing. Of course, my opinion could be biased after experiencing Noma’s adventurous version with freeze-dried wood ants just two weeks prior.
I love cod that flakes with the slightest touch. The cod with favas and white asparagus ($29) did not disappoint in this respect but the broth was a bit too salty.
The last dish was what we came for. Numerous reviews from critics and yelpers (I know, I know) raved about it. And for what it’s worth, the Ricotta dumplings with mushrooms and pecorino cheese ($23) almost nailed it. Pillowy soft and creamy on the inside. Earthiness from the thinly sliced mushrooms. Unfortunately, the sauce was oversalted which ruined the dish overall. According to Julia, a better version of ricotta gnocchi can be found at Jane over on Houston which I hope to try soon.
Such a promising start with a disappointing finish. The only way to alleviate this culinary blue ball was to get D2 (dinner #2) at one of my favorite places, Robataya, and then dessert at Cha-An Teahouse.
Great spot to get drinks. I only sampled two and they were both great. Recommend The Rosemary Society - (Gin, pear brandy, lemon, grapefruit, rosemary) and the Tuxedo #2 (Gin, white vermouth, Maraschino, bitters, absinthe) which had complex flavors that changes over time. The absinthe had a nice subtle anise flavor that wasn't too overpowering.
What to Get: Croquettes and the mussels dish were decent. Would love to have tried the pork, the beef, and the lamb ribs.
Getting a table isn't that hard but if none are available, the bar is spacious enough to sit. Go for the nook area near the front windows to avoid draft and traffic from front door.
Overall, the dishes didn't justify the price. Not the best value and would probably go back for drinks and skip the food.