It’s relatively unlikely that you are familiar with the name Ignacio Mattos. But heed my prediction: this Uruguayan James Beard Foundation finalist is dangerously close to becoming the next big name in modern American food! Having served under slow-food legend Alice Waters at Chez Panisse and South American grilling sensation Francis Mallman along with stints at Isa and Il Buco, his unique style is rather tough to define. His recently debuted Soho boutique restaurant Estela showcases a healthy influence of Spanish, some Carribean, a dash or two of Japanese and just enough Italian to call it American!
While Mattos prides himself on presenting “approachable” food, I found his plating style quite the opposite – almost bashful. Instead of displaying an overt visual focus for the main ingredient, many of his dishes seem to conceal them beneath a forest of obscurities, creating a “surprise” as you wield your knife through the edible jungle.
His uncategorized menu of sharing plates grows in portion and price as you journey from north to south with snacks like Pickled Carrots and Salted Cod with Potato, to salads that include Kampachi with Apple or Celery with Mint, small plates such as Farro with Wax Beans, and then onto some hearty mains like Cod with Favas or Quail with Broccoli Rabe.
The Beef and Bison combined Tartare with sunchokes and capers is layered with dark flavors, and the crunch is an unsuspected bonus. The circular display of Endive leaves obscures the wondrous anchovied walnuts with Ubriaco rosso (Italian cheese aged in crushed red grapes).
Everything I’d heard about the Burrata with Salsa Verde is true. The most luscious, earthy, dark green herb puree you’ve even come across slowly soaks into the toast supporting the white, velvety, creamy goodness above. Hard to believe that I have never tried Mussels in Escabeche (vinegar marinade) before, but the unique and almost floral tang won me over instantly.
In the interest of time, forgive me as I gloss over the delectable Scallops with Peas, the unmissable Fried Arroz Negro (black rice) and the incomparable Pork with Potatoes and Borani (Persian eggplant and yoghurt) so that I can relive and re-salivate over the crystalized salt-crusted rib-eye of Beef with eggplant and leeks finished with the creamiest Taleggio cheese ever. Oh, and don’t be surprised if someone gives him a big ol’ culinary award for the Panna Cotta finished with honey and vinegar. Yes, vinegar!