Review: Calle Ocho

Calle Ocho
446 Columbus Ave, 82nd & 81st
New York, NY 10024
(212) 873-5025

It’s my second Restaurant Week here in NYC, and I’m really excited to show you everything I’ve eaten, starting with Calle Ocho. Hidden in the friendly Upper West Side, Calle Ocho is a sexy, steamy and unpretentious import from the likes of Miami or the Caribbeans. The warm ambiance lures you in, and your hips can’t help but sway with the sultry rhythms of Luis Enrique, Marc Anthony and Victor Manuelle. Swathed in warm sunset hues, the ambiance is casually amicable, encouraged by lots of free flowing sangria. Even the most reluctant are aroused and can’t resist the persistent temptations of the sangria bar – and you come back, begging for more. This is all just foreplay, the meal is yet to come…

Between the 6 of us, we were able to try a good variety of Calle Ocho’s Restaurant Week menu. Like the ambiance and sangria, the food is vivacious and inviting. It teases and tickles and keeps you wet and anxious for what’s next.

To begin, I started with a sweet and sour Peruvian shrimp, topped off with pickled onions. The passionate and fiery flavors sear the back of your tongue, and you gasp for air. The only thing to calm the excitement was the cool and nonchalant snapper ceviche, suspended in grapefruit and jicama, and tinted with the juices of passion fruit.

This grilled hanger steak was served with crispy fried onions, roasted potatoes, and a sweet and tangy pepper relish. This dish was a fantastic flavor burst (perhaps too seasoned actually), and tingled all the senses.

The grilled pork chop was accompanied with little pearl onions and a plantain “basket” that once open, revealed steamy and fragrant arroz moros (black bean rice).

In lieu of the pumpkin mahi-mahi dish, the chefs at Calle Ocho prepared a crispy snapper, wrapped in what I think was banana blossom (someone want to correct me?), paired with a creamy malanga mash (similar to taro) and tangy grilled veggies to provide some contrast. I think there was also some chimichurri speared over the crispy fish. Despite not being what I ordered, I actually enjoyed this dish very much.

But it’s not over yet, not until we’ve reached the earth-shattering climatic dessert. This was by far the best part of the night, where everything culminates and comes to a finish. Clock-wise from the top, we had the:
.: Cubanito – chocolate hazelnut mousse, peanut butter crust and coffee ice cream
.: Bombas – pastry cream filled donuts and banana ice cream
.: Cocos – coconut ice cream in a chocolate shell with pineapple sauce
.: Caramelo – vanilla flan and mango sauce
.: Crema Catalana – dulce de leche crème brûlée
.: Domino – dark chocolate cake and dulce de leche ice cream
Doesn’t that sound just absolutely divine? It was all sooo good, but to be fair – the banana ice cream isn’t as good as Ici’s roasted banana ice cream, and I think I can make a better vanilla flan. The crème brûlée was tasty, but nothing out of the ordinary. But other than that, I feel like Calle Ocho is one of those places where the gap between expectation and experience isn’t too far off. What they do, they do well – a few elements of surprise here and there, but overall a pretty safe menu with dishes that featured predictably complementary flavors. It’s not a bad thing. And even if the food or service wasn’t great, you will probably be too buzzed from the sweet sangria to know otherwise. Four stars – I’m still moaning and panting from that meal.

Post-cuisine cuddle,
Anh Duong

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