Review - CALLE OCHO (446 COLUMBUS AVE, 212-873-5025)
We had a big group dinner here over the weekend and enjoyed ourselves. It's a Nuevo Latino place that's part of the Rain restaurant group, so its mildly corporate, but still pretty solid. We did have a slight hiccup on arrival, having to wait 25-30 min for a table that we had reserved well in advance, and the table we got was pretty apparently squished together -- they had taken a 4 two tops and tried to make it hold ten. The venue was crowded , hot / poorly ventilated, with the kicker of loud non Latin rock music. We couldn't hear the other end of the table the whole night, which eventually got tiresome.
That being said, the food is good and the place is fun. We started with lots of appetizers; we got the lobster ceviche (raw marinated seafood cocktail) to begin with, which was tasty. Then some whitefish ceviche, which seemed similar but mushier. (I thought the ceviche at Mercadito was better personally). The next item was the bacon wrapped dates, which was pretty awesome -- proving that wrapping bacon/prosciutto around any edible object is a winner. Then we had their arepas, which are fried corncakes topped with short rib slivers. This was very popular and a total winner. Then we had some rock shrimp tamales, which were also a hit. And lastly we had a platter of the gallitos, which is a big platter of soft beef/chicken/shrimp tacos. It was solid, but I noticed the tortillas were soggy. This is a good bar appetizer, but a bit bulky for a small table as the dish comes on a huge multlayered platter.
For the main courses I had the filet, which comes in a pile of spinach, mushrooms and garlic. It was pretty good but nothing extraordinary. It seemed the most innocuous thing I could find. My SO had the skirt steak over the fried rice, which was topped with a fried egg. It looked ok, but was a large portion, so some of it got packed for lunch. The dishes from a price perspective: the app level are mostly $10-$14 and the mains are mostly $20-$32 -- which is mid priced for prime Manhattan, but high for Latin styled food.
We did enjoy the food though and the service was solid. This is a good place enjoy cocktails and snacks / apps , but it is really popular, so you may end up waiting, even with a reservation. I'd come back for a bite the next time I have to be at the Museum of Natural History.