64 W 10th St @ 6th Ave
New York, NY 10011
It’s embarrassing to admit that Alta is probably the only place I’ve ever walked out sober, not being able to recall what I had eaten. As I look over my super saturated yet low-light photos, I can only begin to piece together the magic – and words utterly fail me.
Somewhere in Greenwich Village, an easy to overlook entryway leads to a sultry Spanish Eden, where wine flows free from the urn, and the patrons are quick to smile and lively with conversation. Alta is reminiscent of those Madrid plazas, washed in warm sandstone, complete with 2nd story balconies, primed for watching the inebriated patrons below. There are secret rooms and dark alcoves, for those who prefer a more intimate meal, cozying up over a bowl of bacon wrapped dates or dish of black truffle and potato gnocchi. Either way, Alta’s highly inspired tapas menu will be sure to please and excite, and I know that most patrons don’t go home lonely…
The 4 of us (Steph, V, T, and I) were able to do considerable damage, and I even (for a split second) playfully considered ordering the extensive menu in its entirety (for a whomping $425). In the upper left, we begin with a seared sea scallop dish, served on a parsley root puree and topped with tangy apple cider starch balls, meant to mimic caviar. There are hints of fruity olive and underpinnings of chorizo oil. Next up, the lamb meatballs, smokey from the cumin and sweetened by the warm, cinnamony butternut squash puree, and cleansed with a tangy yogurt sauce. One of the star dishes for the night was the soft, pliant potato gnocchi, served with mildly peppery baby arugula and rich and creamy fonduta – cream sauce of Fontina cheese and truffles, and topped with little bits of crisp fried potatoes. It was decadent, and I only wish there was more! Last, a delicious finger food of bacon wrapped dates and olives, stuffed with almonds, which brings to mind a beautiful hybrid of different Mediterranean flavors.
Alta’s dishes continued to surprise, as the food is well thought-out and executed. No detail is too small, whether or not the patron recognizes or acknowledges them. For example, hidden beneath these bountiful fruits of the sea, is a bed of squid ink rice – the foundation of this paella dish – that is woven with thin slices of pickled pepper and brightened by citric notes of preserved lemon. No detail is too small.
Highly recommended by the server, we ordered a plate of coca, or Catalan flatbread, topped with a deeply earthy mixture of roasted mushrooms and nondescript blend of cheese, herbs and flavorings. The earthiness of the mushrooms was overwhelming, and I’m sure a little Hobbit would have loved this combination of flavors, but I couldn’t fully appreciate it. On the right is a small piece of fried red snapper wrapped in Prosciutto, served with a creamy cannellini puree and tangy watercress salad with preserved lemon vinaigrette. Not pictured, we also had the highly acclaimed bowl of crispy Brussels sprouts, tossed in a salad of thinly sliced granny smith apples, crème fraiche, and pistachio nuts. This dish had a nice interplay of textures and flavors – nutty, tangy, sweet – beautiful execution.
The best is saved for last – dessert at Alta was superb. The plate of beignets was served with 3 dipping sauces, which I believed to be an thick apple compote, creme anglaise and some kind of syrup. Long after the pillowy beignets were gone, we kept taking dips of the delicious sauces. The mascarpone & lebne cheesecake had very strong milk-cheese overtones. Most cheesecakes tend to lose their cheese flavor to sugar and other fruit/chocolate additives, but this particular cheesecake stayed true to its quintessential cheese flavor. For non-cheese lovers, it is a bit overpowering, but the pairing with the nutty almond biscotti, and a dab of fruit puree, smooths the rough edges of this cheesecake. My Torija dessert was comprised of a complex combination of something akin to a nut brittle (croquant), sprinkled over my raspberry sorbet and toasted bread, topped off with a preserved citrus foam. This dessert was not only creative and bold, but also radical and requiring skilled craftsmanship. For our final dessert, V ordered the molten chocolate cake that oozed warm magma-like chocolate over the rum raisin vanilla ice cream and fragile tuile cookie. Delectable.
Beyond the good food, more importantly – is the good people. It’s the company you’re in that really brings the whole experience over the top. Good company can buffer bad service and salvage a rough night. For example, before the meal ended, we were rushed to the ATM machines, as Alta only accepts Cash and AmEx – but no matter. We lingered and enjoyed our conversation, shared stories and experiences, and left a good 3 hours after our had meal begun. Good food may have brought us strangers together, but it’s ephemeral and only lasts as long as you are still chewing. However, good people build new relationships, and that I think lasts a lifetime.
To new and old friends, and good food.