The floor is slightly slanted under certain tables at just-opened Nolita spot Estela, a quirky aspect of an old building that might make you feel like the cocktail you sipped at the bar while looking down onto Houston Street from your second-story perch near the window went straight to your head. You’ll be used to it by the time the waiter drops by to apologize for it, and the slope will be long forgotten when your party’s bottle of wine or board of Olli’s Virginia ham hits the table.
When Mark Connell decided to transform this narrow space above his bar, Botanica, into a restaurant, he enlisted the help of Thomas Carter (a Blue Hill Stone Barns vet) and Ignacio Mattos (who helmed the kitchen at Isa when that restaurant was turning out innovative, off-the-wall cuisine) to put together the food and drink program.
Mattos’s board reads like a New American tapas list with novel flavor accents: Tahini is tucked into a salad, steamer clams are bolstered by garlic scapes, and a steak is garnished with anchovies and sided with cauliflower gratin. The menu comprises mostly small plates and is complemented by a few starters, like olives and salami, available for sharing, as well as a small handful of entrée-sized dishes, including ricotta dumplings and roasted chicken. Our server’s recommendations included the mussels escabeche, the eggs with gigante beans, and the summer squash with hazelnuts and Fossa cheese.
Cocktails like the Americano Estela–a yellow blend of Aveze gentiane liqueur, white vermouth, gin, and soda–are nice as aperitifs, but Carter’s wine list, which is sizable, thoughtful, and quirky, is probably where you want to head when you’re ready to match something to your meal. Or better yet, call Carter over and have him make a suggestion. The collection is old-world-slanted, but there are several New York wineries represented, too.
If you want to experience this place without shelling out for an entire dinner, sit at the bar and order a glass of wine and the beef tartare; the cold, silky beef is chopped, hit with citrus, and mixed with crispy sunchoke chips, which give a nice contrasting crunch to each otherwise velvety bite.
A first look at a drink and a dish: