The Bell Tower is the restaurant that transformed Danny Meyer from a one-shop restaurateur to a full-blown impresario, made Tom Colicchio a star and launched a citywide proliferation of casual yet upscale American eateries.
The Bell Tower
Base impulses prevail as you lick up the musky puddle of squid ink below charred calamari, with blackened baby onions and pimentón-laced romesco breathing smoke into the salty sea. Or when you suck the bones of moist, crisp roasted quail clean; it’s accompanied by a piece of toast slathered with a fig-anchovy-garlic jam that makes regular preserves seem like a banal joke.
Oozing egg yolk, hot harissa and salty shards of cured tuna comingle into an improbably balanced sauce for creamy gigante beans. Be brutish and drag your finger through it. This restaurant is dark; no one will judge.
Lest we forget about Mattos’s own esoteric rumblings, here comes beef tartare looking like a bowl of granola, with tart pickled elderberries, a musty baseline note from fish sauce and crunchy sunchoke chips. In another novel dish, a heap of shaved raw button mushrooms atop molten ricotta dumplings prompts the question, salad-bar bland or offbeat brilliant? As the heat from the pasta wilts that tame fungus into an intoxicatingly earthy shroud, you know the answer.
And the knee-bucklingly creamy panna cotta with honey—what are those nutty, floral bits scattered on top? Crystallized bee pollen, naturally.
It’s a decent problem for a restaurant when perfectly fine dishes—like ragged burrata on toast or crunchy kohlrabi with salty fossa cheese—can appear pedestrian compared with their esteemed colleagues. But Estela’s main headache is service that falters when the place is jammed (which it usually is). Aloof waiters, erratic pacing of courses and an occasional presumptuousness—no after-dinner drink before bringing the check?—can splash cold water on the warm buzz engendered by Mattos’s food.
Yet ultimately, that won’t keep you away when the relentlessly invigorating food hardly skips a beat. Hopefully, this time, Mattos is here to stay.