Had dinner at Alta recently on a weekday night. It's located on E. 10th st. between 5th and 6th, on a gorgeous block full of beautiful old homes and tree-lined sidewalks. At one point on the street, a tree twists its root up the wall of one building in a haunting melding of city and nature.
Alta's atmosphere fits the mysterious and hidden theme perfectly. Tucked into a small storefront, it turns out to be much larger inside, but its size cannot be seen all at once. The restaurant inside is structured like a home with multiple levels. I was ushered past a narrow bar area, through the kitchen, and into a nook with just a few other tables. Orange creme walls reminded me of Spain. I later saw other spaces for tables outside the kitchen on the same level in a square surrounding a balcony that looked upon another area of tables below. Wooden trusses crisscrossed the ceiling. This is a very atmospheric place.
Anyway, enough about that and on to the food. Alta is a tapas place, and a really excellent one for vegetarians like me. I ended up ordering a brussel sprout salad, a mozarella appetizer, a "truffle surprise" in phyllo dough, and a flatbread, mushroom, and cheese concoction. Dishes came as they were made.
All were excellent, especially the brussel sprout salad, which actually had no thread-like sprouts in it at all. Instead, it was the actual hard nutty green vegetable itself, slightly warm, combined with fuji apples, crème fraiche, and pistachio nuts. Aromatic and downright addictive.
The smoked mozarella came in a fried dough and was served with a tangy balsamic tomato sauce that gave just the right craveable quality to the dish.
The flatbread was also quite good, though perhaps the least distinguished of the bunch. The bread itself was a little leathery, though still basically quite tasty.
The truffle surprise was enclosed in a deep fried phyllo dough sacks that were wonderfully flaky. The surprise (you still have to taste it to really get it, so I'm not ruining much) was a super-creamy truffle concoction inside.
Dessert was another tapas-style set of brown butter crepes filled with caramelized bananas, lemon curd, and sweet and salty macadamia nuts. It was simple, not TOO filling, and very satisfying. The crepes were cold and the bananas were lukewarm and so the whole thing had a "snack" quality to it that was in tune with the rest of the goods.
Alta turns out creative food that nevertheless hits the spot and makes you want more. I highly recommend it.
The Vegetarian New Yorker: http://vegny.blogspot.com/