The claim was so huge it could not be ignored.
We had to taste this steak — and not just because of our strong belief that steak should be its own food group. Specific dishes aside, Estela is packing some serious up-and-coming chef power.
Ask your Brooklyn foodies, or your farm-to-table-slow-food-movement snobs who Estela’s head chef, Ignacio Mattos is, and they’ll tell you all about how he was wine director at Westchester’s, Blue Hill at Stone Barns (a restaurant favoured by the Obamas). They’ll also probably mention that Mattos did five years of hard cooking time at Il Buco.
Most importantly, he’s known for bringing his own brand of what the New York Times’ restaurant critic Pete Wells called a “deep, surrealist weirdness” to Isa, a Brooklyn Italian restaurant known for serving dishes that shocked your eyes and inspired your taste buds — things like fried sardine skeleton, or panna cotta served with honey harvested from beehives on Isa’s rooftop garden.
You can taste that oddness on the menu at Estela, and it’s completely perfect.
We got there for dinner around 8:30 pm on a Friday, and it was packed. Charlie Rose was seated at a table in the center of the warm dining room and the bar crowded with drinkers. Estela, after all, is owned by Mark Connell, the same man who owns the dive bar below the restaurant (Botannica). His vision for Estela was an upscale wine bar, and it has that kind of friendly energy.
So if you go there, be sure to drink the wine and go for a few small plates before your steak. We tried the calamari à la plancha with charred onion and romesco, the quail with fig, bread, and white beans, and the mussels escabeche on toast.
Try all of that. Mattos has an awesome way of making everything taste new. Estela’s menu screams Mediterranean fare but close your eyes and you might not place it. Consider this a massive compliment. Surprises are not necessarily common for people that really love food.
Steak lovers don’t go for surprises either, for that matter. The general rules of steak purists are as follows — the steak should be a high quality cut, seasoned with salt and pepper only, and then put on a grill until it’s cooked medium rare. At that point, you have a glass of red wine and go to heaven.
Not at Estela. The steak has a sauce, and you will love this sauce. The steak is cooked with leaks, eggplants, and anchovies, and you will love them too. These are not your steak-lovers traditional rich, buttery sides (Think: creamed spinach or mashed potatoes). But that’s fine, you won’t even miss them.
The eggplant has an acidic and charred flavour that perfectly compliments the two pieces of rib-eye sitting on your plate and melting in your mouth. The saltiness of the sardines only makes the velvetiness of the steak more prominent.
Basically, Richman nailed it. The purists may scoff at anchovies on a steak, but they shouldn’t. This is magic.