Within a week period, I found myself on the Upper West Side – where I never go, as you can see by that link – a record three times. One of those times was for the preview of the ‘new’ menu at Calle Ocho, which had moved across the street to its new location inside the Excelsior Hotel. So I dragged Beer Boor under protest to this event, as my appetite was still wonky and I was scared I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the food.
The entire back room, which is quite large, was reserved with three large tables for the food and lifestyle bloggers that had been invited to this event. Our extremely friendly main-server came by to give us some bread to start, which he explained was a traditional Colombian bread – I thought he said pao de quiejo so I got super excited, but this turned out not to be that. It looks like it… but it’s pandebono, which I thought was OK but needed more oomph (cheese or salt?). A black bean dip appeared on the side. I didn’t finish my piece, because I saw the menu and knew that with my wonky appetite, I needed to save room for what was to come.
Our first course was served shortly: a duo of ceviches. Marinated aji tuna, ginger, cilantro, mustard vinaigrette on the left, and cured salmon, aji amarillo, sour orange, pineapple on the right: I enjoyed the salmon, but I really enjoyed the tuna. The flavors were bright, fresh, and just worked together to make my mouth happy. Yum!
Next, our aperitivo: bacon wrapped almond stuffed dates, hearts of palm, cabrales on the left, and Colombian sweet corn arepa, ropa vieja, crema nata and Criolla salad. I thought the dates were a little sweet and overpowered the rest, but tasty enough; the ropa vieja on the other hand was super tender and super flavorful. Delicious.
With each course arrived more alcohol, so fast I couldn’t keep pace. As soon as we’d sat down, actually, mojitos appeared; I’m not a fan of mojitos in general but these were so, so good. I downed half of it, and the alcohol punched me in the face, so I had to stop before I got completely sloshed. This is the sangria that arrived with our aperitivo, but I’ll let Beer Boor tell you about all the drinks as that’s his job, not mine. And yes, that’s him in the background of this pic – I think he’s looking at his phone?
Beer Boor says: Har har. The mojitos were very citrusy and minty, to the point where the alcohol just didn’t register — the way I like mixed drinks. The sangria was given to us as using a very good bottle of red, which I couldn’t understand; I figured usually you use mediocre wine since it’s going to be drowned out by the fruit. In this case, the opposite occurred, and the drink became more of a red wine with solid bits of flavorless fruit.
Our first entree – yes, I said first – the fish course, roasted striped bass, serrano ham chick pea roasted pepper sauce. My piece of fish was slightly overcooked, and I was feeling really full here so I opted to only take one bite before setting my fork down. The server came to ask if everything was alright, and while I tried to assure him that it was fine, he took my plate from me and wrapped it to go without me asking. That was pretty nice of him, though unnecessary, as I knew I wouldn’t eat it once I went home, and as expected, it wound up in the trash.
Beer Boor says: I speculate that this was the Las Perdices pinot grigio. It’s never been a favorite grape of mine, but this was a mediocre wine, sharp and a little sour, and I struggled to drink much of it.
Our second main course, Cuban style ‘steak frites’ with traditional chimichurri – oh, how we looked and looked for the chimichurri. It was not on any of our plates, and questions later didn’t solve the riddle. Regardless, the steak was cooked to a perfect medium-rare and I enjoyed what I ate. The yucca as ‘frites’ underneath didn’t fare so well in my opinion, but the dish was still very tasty.
Beer Boor says: Just when I thought the wine choices might improve, this cabernet sauvignon appeared. Again, guessing based on the menu, this was a 2009 Infinitus. Far from tasty, this was mealy, flabby, mushy, all bad adjectives-y, and sat largely untouched for the duration.
For dessert, dark chocolate cake, dulce de leche ice cream. I found it highly amusing that everyone’s ‘domino’ showed the number 7 (minus one person who had a 5)… when the name of the restaurant has the word ‘eight’ in it. I went around looking at everyone’s dessert just to try to find someone with an eight! I thought the cake was good, but I’m not a sweets person so it didn’t have a chance of impressing me anyway.
Yvo says: There were definitely some really good dishes and some dishes that were only so-so for me. I really liked the ceviche, and had varying levels of enjoyment for the rest of the meal. I could see coming here if I lived closer or was in the neighborhood, but as the Upper West Side proved itself to be incredibly annoying to return to Forest Hills from after dinner that week, I doubt I will return any time soon. However, that’s just a matter of personal convenience; it’s perfectly fine for most people… so I would suggest checking it out if you find yourself near the Museum of Natural History and in need of some tasty eats.
recommended (but if you live in Forest Hills, be sure to leave plenty of time for the commute home)
Please note that we attended this event free of charge, courtesy of Calle Ocho and their PR team. Opinions expressed herein are our own, and we received no compensation for such a post – the meal was free, and we were given $25 vouchers in the event we return.