I’ve got mixed feelings about Estela, the new tapas-style restaurant from chef Ignacio Matos and beverage director Thomas Carter.
We last saw Matos at Isa, where he wowed audiences and critics (or most of them), but didn’t wow the owner, the world’s greatest poseur, Taavo Somer. Apparently unwilling to operate even one good restaurant, Somer fired Matos abruptly in the summer of 2012. Isa still exists, but is culinarily irrelevant, like all of Somer’s other places.
So it’s an understatement to say I was rooting for Estela to succeed. I didn’t love everything I tasted at Isa, but I loved a lot of it, and it mattered.
Alas, Estela is a let-down. The food is all pleasant enough and mostly pretty good. You won’t eat badly here. But most of it is beneath what Matos was trying to do at Isa. It was worth going out of your way to visit Isa. It’s worth dropping in at Estela if you’re in a few blocks’ radius.
It’s an even bigger come-down for Carter, who was beverage director at Blue Hill Stone Barns, and now serves a wine list that fits on a single page. (That is, unless there’s a larger list that the server neglected to show us.)
None of this is accidental. In a joint interview with Eater, Matos and Carter made their lower ambitions abundantly clear: “I don’t want us to think in terms of ‘developing dishes’ or anything like that,” says Mattos of the way he’s training his young and small kitchen to work. “These should just be plates of food, nurturing and relatively cheap, that remind you of the home-cooked meals you never experience anymore.”