Monday, October 13, 2008

Little Havana in NYC? (Calle Ocho, Manhattan)

A colleague of ours invited us out to dinner while we were in New York on a business trip. When he first informed us that he was thinking of this restaurant called Calle Ocho, because they had all you can drink Sangria, I was thinking "Oh No". But I shouldn't have doubted him. Funny as he is, he wouldn't play a joke when it came it to eating. Calle Ocho was truly a pleasant surprise! Another reason I was thinking "Oh No", was because it wasn't a big name restaurant in Manhattan, but let me tell had the big name taste. My only exposure to Cuban food was very limited so I went with an open mind and empty stomach and I was not disappointed. The one thing that struck me was the size and the atmosphere of the restaurant. When you first walk in it seems almost like a bar. It was dark and it appeared smaller than it actually was. As you walk towards the main room you are immediately drawn to the size and lively atmosphere of the restaurant. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised with the atmosphere portion due to the all you can drink Sangria station. I never knew that there was so many variations of Sangria.

Sangria Station
Calle Ocho offered 10, that's right TEN different types of Sangria and it was all you can drink! Boy, this could have been trouble especially because they were all sooo good and you couldn't really taste any alcohol. I never knew that Sangria also could be made with white wine. I think I ended up drinking 6 different Sangrias. From what I can recall they were all great!

The Picada was a sampler of the chef's choice of appetizers. From the top left and going clockwise was the Datiles (Bacon wrapped almond stuffed dates), Chicharron (Crispy calamari drizzled with honey), Empanadas, and Camarones (Puerto Rico rum glazed shrimp). All four were excellent, but I would have to say that the empanadas were my favorite. The biggest surprise was the Chicharron. I was expecting pork rinds and what came out was calamari.

The Filete was a Uruguayan beef tenderloin served with a four cheese empanada. I am pretty positive that this was the first time I had ever eaten Uruguayan beef and I would have to say that I couldn't tell the difference. The beef was really tender, but the disappointment was the empanada. It lacked flavor and should have been replaced with the empanada from the appetizer.

The Corvina was a Chilean Sea Bass served with a sea urchin butter sauce. The Chilean Sea Bass was buttery and delicate. I don't eat too much seafood, but I do love Chilean Sea Bass.

Red Snapper
This interesting dish was one of the specials of the night. It was a Malanga leaf wrapped red snapper. I never heard of this particular style of preparation, but luckily someone ordered this dish so that I was able to give it a taste. The only way I could describe the flavor of the Malanga was that it was crunchy and almost potato like with a nutty/earthy flavor. I guess the use of Malanga is quite prevalent in Cuba and other parts of the world. I need to get out more!

Because I am not the biggest fan of certain types of seafood, I usually shy away from ordering Paellas, even though it has rice as one the main ingredients. Again I was fortunate enough that I was able to sample a little from someone else :) I really love eating with a lot of people, especially when they are willing to share some goodness. The Paella was definitely full of flavor and delicious!

For those who know me well, know that I am a total carnivore and rarely eat vegetables. So to my surprise, this vegetarian paella was by far the best entree of the night in my opinion. What a surprise! Not only that it tasted so well, but I've never heard of a Vegetable Paella. The best way to describe the taste of this dish is that of "okoge" A Japanese term for the crispy burnt crust portion of a rice dish. Trust me it tastes a lot better than the way I am describing it.

The Caramelo was a traditional flan that was executed very well. It was silky, creamy, and yummy!

The Bizcocho was an interesting dessert. The espresso coffee that was presented on the dish was actually used to pour all over the pastelito (Cuban type of pastry). The pastry soaked up the coffee and was quit interesting and a bit messy. The macadamia nut ice cream was a nice finishing touch.

Dark chocolate cake with dulce de leche ice cream presented cleverly as dominos. When I ordered this dessert I never imagined that it would be presented in this manner. A nice playful way incorporating a favorite Cuban pastime with the name of one of the Calle Ocho's popular desserts. I loved it!

Calle Ocho
446 Columbus Avenue
New York, NY. 10024

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