This week, our critics were equally charmed by a petite French bistro and a bustling Bowery tapas joint. Robert Sietsema dug into a mussels poutine at Three Letters in Clinton Hill, while Tejal Rao scooped up hearty bites of paella at Cata on the Lower East Side.
Will the professionals go back for second helpings? Read on to find out.
Down on the Bowery, Tejal Rao reminds us that “paella should taste better than it looks,” and Cata’s renditions do just that. Our critic favors the rustic Spanish restaurant and notes that “it may require some effort to eat poorly at Cata.”
She also says:
Cata’s paella is all about the traditional bomba rice, that firm Spanish variety, sweet here with sofrito, savory with duck stock, brown and crisp along the edges. You’ll want to steady the hot pan with a folded cloth napkin so you can scrape every last grain from its surface.
The crisp patatas bravas ($7.50) make a case for foams on your food–they’re served with a lovely, dense froth of aioli that works like a fluffy mayonnaise. There is kale ($8), of course, whole leaves with edges blackened on the grill, dressed lightly in buttermilk. Cata’s version of baked oysters ($11) involves a golden crust of bread crumbs and bone marrow, but the oysters tucked underneath remain fat and juicy.
And while Rao also enjoys Cata’s sister spot, Alta, the new restaurant proves to be more inviting:
Cata is fresher than its sister–lighter, brighter, more informal. The metal barstools can be slippery, and there’s always the risk of a little awkwardness at the long communal tables, but service is proficient and the dining room isn’t crowded, with huge windows looking onto Stanton Street, letting in the light. Who knew this corner space was so beautiful?
The kitchen at Three Letters steers away from “a predictable collection of recipes,” says Sietsema, resulting in an overall experience that’s more L Train than Left Bank. But that can be a good thing.
Take the classic moules frites, offered in a dozen standard variations in Paris. Here, copping a craze from Francophone Montreal, it has been reinterpreted as mussels poutine ($8): a few bouncy specimens riding atop fries doused with a thin mushroom demi-glace.
And the kitchen excels at other dishes, as well:
More succulent is chicken St. James, which arrives littered with garlic cloves and broccoli as if the bird had flown into a roadside farm stand. But underneath is the real payoff: a mushy pavement of pommes alene, which just might be the best cheesy potatoes you’ve ever eaten.
The borough’s influences continue to poke through in playfully enjoyable ways:
This being Brooklyn, homemade pickles can be ordered separately, either plain or deep-fried–the latter an odd departure from the French theme. Pickles also come with many dishes, including a pâté de campagne that would be perfect if the cool slab weren’t nearly salt-free.
Meanwhile, the city’s other professional diners were equally busy this week. At the NY Times, Pete Wells was the latest critic to sample (and favor) the “fresh-killed” chicken at Hanjan in Koreatown. He declares chef and owner Hooni Kim “the city’s leading interpreter of Korean cuisine,” and awards the restaurant two stars.
At Time Out, Jay Cheshes writes that at Filipino restaurant Jeepney, “everything comes with a story behind it.” And that story is a good one. Cheshes says that “most dishes are likely to make converts of adventurous diners discovering them here for the first time.”
“Harlow brings life and laughter –and intermittently strong, globally tinted seafood — to East Midtown, a zone that after dark feels as dead as downtown Des Moines,” writes Steve Cuozzo. However, the NY Post critic appears to be more interested in the scene at the midtown restaurant (“you might run into your boss, your ex-spouse, or even your current spouse”), than the food.
At NY Mag, Robin Raisfeld and Rob Patronite found much to love at Mama Joy’s, a new Southern gastropub in Bushwick. The kitchen turns out gutbombing dishes–“tender stout-braised short ribs with sautéed cabbage and cheesy mashed potatoes, pot roast with sweet parsnip purée and roasted carrots, mac ‘n’ cheese with duck confit, and chicken and dumplings rescued from potential blandness by a mega-blast of cracked peppercorns” — so bring an appetite and an elastic waistband. They also enjoyed Soho’s Café à la Carte at Hotel Particulier, where “the care taken with the food and the unique atmosphere make for an entirely civilized experience.”