Wednesday, May 5, 2010

I Dream of Tapas at Alta New York

By: Wela Quan

My love of Spanish tapas started when I first moved to Montreal about three years ago. After the end of first year law school, me and my friend Mae decided that instead of going to the end of year law school party (a.k.a. drunken debauchery), we would instead go and try out a tapas restaurant. That was probably the best decision I have ever made because the restaurant we went to was so amazing that till this day it is mine and Mae’s favourite restaurant in the world. Now that’s a bold claim for two bona fide foodies! While this review is not about my favourite restaurant Pintxo’s and Basque tapas, it is about Ethan’s favourite restaurant: Alta, which serves Spanish tapas.

Tapas are Spanish appetizers or snacks meant to be eaten with wine. Even though they were traditionally eaten as starters, tapas have become so popular that there are now restaurants which serve them exclusively as the meal. The great thing about Tapas is that they are small in quantity and because of this, diners can order several different dishes at a time. As someone who loves variety, tapas dinners are the most fun with a group of people.

The first time I went to Alta was on a weekday evening with Ethan. Now I am sure you all know that it’s always the skinny Chinese kids who can surprisingly pack it away and as far as Ethan and I go (two skinny Chinese kids who can pack it away), we were able to eat around 8 tapas . This time when I went to Alta (my second time), Ethan and I went on a Friday night with three other friends and together we ordered close to 16 tapas.
First word of advice: call ahead and make a reservation at least a week in advance. We called a week in advance and the earliest they could seat us was 9:45PM. When we first got there, we had an excellent glass of sangria while we waited for our table in the bar area of the restaurant. Located in Greenwich Village, Alta has one of those non-existent front doors with the restaurant entrance itself actually below street level.

When we finally sat down to eat, we were all famished. In the beginning we tried to pick items in order according to where they appeared on the menu, but that soon broke down and we resorted to a yell out what you want system. The last time I came to Alta with Ethan, we had a romantic dinner and ate at a leisurely pace. However this time, probably because it was Friday night, the restaurant was full of people and extremely lively. Since I cannot recall everything I ate that night, I will talk about the few dishes that I remember distinctly.
It did not take long for everyone to agree that the Crispy Brussels Sprouts was the most amazing vegetable they had ever eaten, so much so that we ordered it again. If you come to Alta and get only one dish, it should be the Brussels Sprouts. I have no idea how they cook them but between the juiciness and crispiness is all flavour, a feat hard to accomplish considering how bitter they are in the ‘real world’.
Next we had the Fried Sea Scallops. Again, I don’t know how they made the scallops taste so great but they were cooked in a way that I had never had before, with a light coating of breading. I tried to recreate this at home but failed because the bread crumbs just all fell apart. The Braised Short Rib of Beef was significant and very tender while the Enormous Whole Shrimp was grilled to perfection.
Perhaps my two favourite dishes of the night included the Wok Seared Calamari and the Crispy Striped Bass. The Calamari came in tiny rings which was unique since most restaurants serve calamari in large pieces while the jalapeno gave the green beans on top a nice kick. The sea bass was the perfect combination of crispy skin and tender meat. Overall, the food was great, but not as amazing as the first time I came, probably because the restaurant was so busy.
Alta has become extremely popular and as such my recommendation is to go on a weeknight to avoid all the traffic. Our server was very nice tolerating our group’s random requests but some of the dishes like the calamari kept on getting forgotten by the kitchen. It was also harder to enjoy the dinner with the restaurant so packed full of people.
Alta remains Ethan’s favorite restaurant in New York and rightfully so; with such a wide array of food and so well done, one cannot help but fall in love with Spanish tapas all over again. Though my dreams of eating tapas in Spain will have to wait for another time, I got another excuse to eat at Alta. One of these days, when I’m really in the mood to celebrate, I will gather a group of friends and order everything on their menu for $420.00. Now THAT’s what I call, packing it away!

64 W. 10th St.
New York, NY 10011

Alta on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Hey there found this site after a delicious meal at Alta. I also got the scallops that i think were perfection. too bad everyone in ny has discovered this place - it used to be my spot!

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