When we first sat down at Estela and perused the brunch menu, my first inclination was that my first time there should have been for dinner. It was just brunch, after all. While it would likely be good, they had just started a brunch service and the real fireworks would probably be reserved for dinner service. When the meal was over, I determined that with a brunch THIS good, I absolutely HAD to return for dinner.
Circumstances can have a lot of bearing on how one receives a meal and this brunch was packed with good circumstances. It was the first time in some time that my wife, myself and our three sons had been together to share a meal in a restaurant. That was one reason why we had chosen Estela in the first place. I had been wanting to check it out since it opened. I missed Chef Ignacio Mattos’ work at the critically acclaimed Isa and everyone I knew who had been to Estela had loved the food. I wanted to try someplace that we hadn’t yet been to and was likely to be special. The thing about circumstances like this, though, is that while they allow increased receptivity for good, disappointment can be that much greater if hopes and expectations are dashed.
The good vibes were initially tested when we tried to find the restaurant.. It was rainy. We had an address, but still had trouble finding the restaurant. There was no sign, a lot of scaffolding and a non-descript doorway. Once inside, though, the good vibes started coming. We were seated at a perfect table for our family – an alcove in the back with a skylight above. We even found some friends sitting at the next table.
The good vibes continued with a cocktail – “Estela della Nonna” – a smooth and delicious, amaro based cocktail of Palo Cortado sherry, Barolo Chinato, Campari and tonic. This was beautifully balanced and a perfect opener.
We ordered and the food started coming. The good vibes never let up. Oysters with caviar were of excellent quality, well shucked and elegant.
Olli’s ham was sweet and tasty. It wasn’t Iberico, but it wasn’t bad either, a very pleasant surprise.
Toast with lardo and jam was an example of what sounded ok, but not particularly exciting on the menu, but was of good quality and nicely done. It was satisfying.
Fresh ricotta with citrus again declared the menu as a major understatement. Creamy, smooth and very well balanced with taut flavors, this was an unexpected winner.
Burrata with salsa verde and charred bread, on the other hand, wasn’t as exciting as I had hoped. Burrata is a subtle delight that revels in its creaminess and textural contrasts. I liked the idea of the acid backbone to play off the richness of the cheese, but it worked perhaps a bit too well. For me, I discovered that Buratta is a luxury best enjoyed cold and clean.
Mussels escabeche on toast, though united complementary flavors and textures that brought me back to Spain. These were plump and terrific.
Even better was the blood cake with onion marmalade and jam. Tbhis was interesting on the menu and even more so eating it. The morcilla like blood cake was rich, irony and delightful.
A salad of endive with walnuts, anchovy and ubriaco cheese was a pillar of balance and exquisite flavors. This was the most beautifully prepared and wonderful salad that I have had in a long time.
Steak with eggs and potatoes sounded mundane, but were expertly executed – a winner!
On a par with the endive salad as my favorite savory dish of the meal, and a sandwich that has to be among the finest breakfast sandwiches ever created was the avocado, pancetta and egg on a Danish savory pastry that is called a tebirke. While each component was excellent, it was the tebirke that put it over the top, adding texture and a hearty flavor. This was uniqueness where I didn’t expect to find any.
Cod with romesco and potatoes bore a Spanish imprint. There wasn’t anything revolutionary about this, but it was a pleasure to eat.
Desserts were simple preparations, but stellar. Chocolate pot de crème reinforced why chocolate is popular. Its rich, dark chocolate flavor was actually exciting in how well it evoked a sense of being in Paris or Barcelona.
Even more sublime was the panna cotta with honey and sherry vinegar. The vinegar was an ideal accompaniment that really brought the dessert to life. We couldn’t get enough of this one.
The brunch was creative, but not wildly so. Each dish was composed of quality ingredients that were cooked with an expert touch. That makes for a very good meal, but it was the little bits of creativity, the subtle touches that really made the meal shine. The sherry vinegar on the panna cotta, the tebirke as sandwich bread, morcilla in the form of a square cake rather than as a sausage or an amorphous lump and the sheer construction of the endive salad were all elements that provided the little extras that made our meal so pleasurable. We were together as a family. That was a pleasure in itself. To share a meal of such quality was the icing on the cake. I needed to return for dinner and I would – the very next day.