First Look at Café Altro Paradiso, the Estela Team’s New York Take on a Classic Italian Restaurant

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Ignacio Mattos, left, and Thomas Carter.
Ignacio Mattos, left, and Thomas Carter. Photo: Jody Wissner/New York Magazine

When sommelier Thomas Carter and chef Ignacio Mattos were planning to open their Nolita restaurant, Estela, three years ago, they looked for inspiration to the modern wine bars of Europe — unassuming places like Manfreds in Copenhagen and Le Verre Volé in Paris that surpassed expectations with the quality of the food and drink. And Estela did surpass expectations, earning Mattos a reputation (not to mention a James Beard nomination and a visit from the Obamas) for his offbeat takes on tartare, gnocchi, and even the seemingly simplest salads. As often happens in this type of culinary fairy tale, the question arose, “What next?” The answer, for Carter and Mattos, is Café Altro Paradiso, an Italian restaurant in the amorphous downtown neighborhood that real-estate interests have branded Hudson Square.

With its 75-seat dining room accoutred with marble floors and white oak, this sophomore project is bigger than Estela and grander in scope, but still, according to Mattos and Carter, reflective of their simple, unfussy style, and their increasingly health-minded appetites. “I’m very picky now,” says Mattos. “I want to feel good about what I eat. Maybe I’m getting old.” So whereas the chef considers some of his work at Estela a bit contrived, in presentation if not in flavor, he intends to strip it down here, to keep plates and tastes clean and simple, without any superfluous ornamentation or textural tricks. “Sometimes adding that little extra ingredient doesn’t really add anything,” says Mattos. “What’s the point?”

He’s still looking abroad for inspiration, this time to London’s River Café, the iconic restaurant and training ground for Jamie Oliver and April Bloomfield, among others. “River Café elevated Italian food, while respecting the tradition,” says Mattos. “They made it better than it is in Italy.” Café Altro Paradiso might not abut the Thames, like the River Café, but it does occupy a bright and lofty corner shielded from Sixth Avenue traffic by a small tree-filled plaza called Soho Square. To some degree, the location dictates the concept, and here, the partners envision a neighborhood oasis that will eventually serve everything from morning coffee and pastries to an afternoon cocktail and snack. For now, the plan is to start with dinner, a rotating menu informed by the same reverence for ingredients Mattos attributes to Bay Area institutions Zuni Café and Chez Panisse. “The operative word is restraint,” he says. “Things will be what they are.” Specifically: varying carpaccios, simple crudo, a lot of anchovies, heirloom rice and polenta from Anson Mills, a daily soup and pizzetta. (“Not pizza,” Mattos clarifies. “More like a flatbread with different toppings, like radicchio, balsamic, and Taleggio, so it feels more like you’re eating a salad. A pizza is a big commitment.”)

Pastas will be available by the half-order, and daily specials are right out of the cucina classica handbook (bollito misto, bistecca Fiorentina). “Estela is about creating identity in dishes,” says Mattos. “I want this to be as traditional as possible — but of course, you still have to sparkle it up.” For Carter’s part, Italian wines will dominate the list, with space reserved for Burgundy and the Rhône, “because we love it,” he says, and Champagne, “because they drink more Champagne in Italy than anywhere else.” Here, a look at the space, a few dishes, and the menus.

A view to the quasi-open kitchen.
A view to the quasi-open kitchen. Photo: Jody Wissner/New York Magazine
It’s a no-tablecloths kind of place.
It’s a no-tablecloths kind of place. Photo: Jody Wissner/New York Magazine
Carpaccio with fried chickpeas, arugula, and aged balsamic.
Carpaccio with fried chickpeas, arugula, and aged balsamic. Photo: Jody Wissner/New York Magazine
Spicy anchovies on butter crostini. “There will be a lot of anchovies,” says Mattos.
Spicy anchovies on butter crostini. “There will be a lot of anchovies,” says Mattos. Photo: Jody Wissner/New York Magazine
Chicories and anchovy vinaigrette.
Chicories and anchovy vinaigrette. Photo: Jody Wissner/New York Magazine
Quality control is essential.
Quality control is essential. Photo: Jody Wissner/New York Magazine
Ravioli of king crab and mascarpone with spinach.
Ravioli of king crab and mascarpone with spinach. Photo: Jody Wissner/New York Magazine
Fusilli with Meyer lemon, basil, and pine nuts.
Fusilli with Meyer lemon, basil, and pine nuts. Photo: Jody Wissner/New York Magazine

234 Spring St., at Sixth Ave.; 646-952-0828.

Dinner and dessert menus. [PDF]

*A version of this article appears in the February 22, 2016 issue of New York Magazine.