Swiss chef Daniel Humm mans the kitchen at this vast Art Deco jewel, which began life as a brasserie before evolving into one of the city’s most rarefied and progressive eateries. The service is famously mannered, and the room among the city’s most grand.
After shuttering its doors at the beginning of the summer and opening a pop-up in East Hampton, the world’s best restaurant (which closed immediately after winning the top spot) is back. In addition to the 8- to 10-course tasting menu for $295 in the dining room, you an order a more affordable tasting menu for $155 at the bar, which also offers snacks and cocktails (or choose from its 20,000 bottles of 4,000 wines). The seasonal menu is packed with hyperminimalist treats such as two foie gras dishes or a smoked sturgeon cheesecake with caviar. Regulars of the previous iteration will be happy to know that its signature savory black-and-white cookies are back in town.
Here you are at 8pm on a Monday, in a packed restaurant with an hour-and-a-half wait. The fashionably cookie-cutter decor—exposed brick, globe lights, hulking marble bar, you know the drill—suggests you’ve stumbled into another bustling rustic restaurant-cum-bar that’s not worth the wait; they’re as ubiquitous now as Citi Bikes.
Far less common are talents like Ignacio Mattos, the imaginative Uruguayan-born chef cooking in this Mediterranean-tinged spot. With this new venture, Mattos and partner Thomas Carter have slouched into a more relaxed posture than during previous stints, Carter as the elegant suit-sporting beverage director of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, and Mattos straining to sell his brilliant brand of “primitive modern” cooking to a Williamsburg crowd at Isa (regrettably sacked less than a year in).
Mattos has reined in his modernist tendencies at Estela, with an ever-changing, mostly small-plates menu that pivots from avant-garde toward intimate, bridging the gap between space-age Isa and the homey Italian he used to cook at Il Buco. But even if he’s tempered his vanguard streak, his primitive urges are alive and well.
A mountain of charred sweet leeks towers above two cherubic slices of juicy, crusty rib eye. The mineral-rich beef fronts this smoky ensemble—melting eggplant prolongs the meat’s lusciousness on the tongue, and anchovy fine-tunes its funky pitch. This is campfire cooking so seductive, you want to run to the kitchen and beg Mattos for the whole steak.