In my post on brunch at Estela I mentioned that good personal circumstances can enhance the experience of a meal. For that brunch, I couldn’t have enjoyed better circumstances – I had my whole family with me, an occurrence now all too rare. It helped to make the meal extra-special and kindled a desire to return for dinner as soon as possible. Well, it turned out that as soon as possible meant the very next evening, when still in the City and without any particular dinner plans, I visited as a walk-in single diner and took my dinner at the bar. The circumstances were not bad, but they were not set up quite as nicely as they had been at brunch when I enjoyed the company of my family.
Solo dining is rarely as much fun as dining with others of similar appetite, but the set up at Estela took away any discomfort that there might have been. Sitting at the bar is an avenue for socializing and what could have been a negative circumstance – having to deal with only my own company – quickly became a positive as I had a very enjoyable time meeting and conversing with a few different people, including Liam Benzvi, one half of the up and coming Minneapolis band, Strange Names.
I was very impressed with the single cocktail that I had at brunch and sitting at the bar was a perfect time to test the waters further. The barmaids were easy on the eyes, personable and most importantly, excellent at their craft. If the food were not as good as it is, Estela would likely still be successful as a cocktail bar.
My first cocktail of the evening was one that bore the unusual moniker of “Alvarez Kennedy.” It was, as the name would imply, a Mexican-Irish hybrid that fused Mezcal with Irish whiskey and for good measure a bit of Moscatel and Pernod. It was clean, well balanced and dangerously tasty. The hint of Pernod came through at the end, lifting through the peat of the Irish whiskey and the smoke of the Mezcal.
A couple of dishes were repeats from the day before. They were good then and still available on the evening menu. I was curious how they would stack up with such a quick repetition. They did fine. The plump mussels in escabeche was still vibrant and juicy.
The endive salad also kept its allure. This is adult food that is sophisticated and somewhat mysterious, especially in the dimmer light of the night.
The mystery continued with the hamachi. Chef Ignacio Mattos used a cloaking device of apple and turnip slices to shield the hamachi. They provided crisp, clean and sweet overtones in addition to their attempts at subterfuge. It was a very lovely dish in every respect.
Ricotta dumplings were equally sneaky. With an appearance closely resembling the hamachi, but with flavors and textures entirely different, yet equally wonderful, it left a sense of playful surprise in the same way that a good magician startles with prestidigitation. This time the masking devices were thin round slices of mushroom.
A different tack was taken with beef tartare. The dish achieved a more straight forward magic of flavor and texture with the quite remarkable inclusion of minced sunchoke to balance the richness of the beef. Mattos’ presentations are focused, while eschewing all but minimalist ornamentation, allowing only enough to surprise.
I had one more cocktail and this one wasn’t on the current menu. It was suggested by the barmaid and had been on previous menus. The De La Louisiane, similar to a Sazerac blended Rye with sweet Vermouth, Benedictine and a touch of absinthe. She did a superb job on delivering a fabulous recommendation. This was yet another outstanding cocktail to go along with the fabulous food. Estela is a restaurant that I would happily return to again and again.