The team behind Estela have officially gone Hollywood with Café Altro Paradiso, their new, flashy Italian restaurant in Soho. If Estela is the quietly attractive bookworm, then Café Altro Paradiso is the conventionally beautiful pageant queen. She is dressed to impress, decked out in immaculate marble floors and white oak all around the grand dining room, and as she makes her way down the catwalk, she serves up plates of pleasant, beautifully plated Italian food, knowing that in order to win the votes, she needs crowd pleasers with broad appeal.
As you can imagine, with this Armani Cafe makeover, a little bit of soul got lost along the way. The different plates of pasta that we tried were all remarkably similar, variations of a perfected formula of olive oil, light cheese and citrus. They were glammed up versions of their more portly red sauce selves. I do have to say that the makeover was a success, particularly with the lasagnette, which was the true queen bee of the lemon pasta sisters. The spaghetti and gnocchi were lovely, but they lived in the lasagnette’s shadow. Even the normally robust cod and seafood stew had been edited down into a shallow pool of broth. Don’t even think about taking a plunge with some bread, the point is to dip your toe in and wade around nicely.
The carpaccio was the one dish I tried that still retained a bit of the quirky Estela character. The thin slices of very Paleo looking raw meat were just as flavorful as anything cooked, and the salt and the fat from the underlying potato crisps and the aioli brought a smile to my face. There’s a saying that it’s either your face or your ass, and I’m glad that they kept the carpaccio as a big-bottomed girl. If the pageant girl let herself go a little, she may be able to win the competition.
Café Altro Paradiso
234 Spring St (between Varick St and Ave of Americas)
New York, NY 10013