The last time our group indulged in this outrageous deal, we... well, I'll attempt to salvage some dignity by merely saying that we all ended up sound asleep by 7:00pm that evening... When we decided early last week that we would try it again, it seemed a much wiser decision to sample the evening menu. Calle Ocho's brunch offers a tasty array of nuevo latino cuisine at a very affordable price point. The sangria buffet shuts down around 3pm, and then reopens with the dinner menu from 5-10pm. The evening menu is a little pricier, but the value is unbeatable (especially if you take advantage of the sangria).
When you first enter Calle Ocho from Columbus Avenue (between 81st and 82nd streets), you are met with a dimly lit bar, reminiscent of the lounges along the restaurant's namesake (Eighth Street) in Little Havana in Miami. I have spoken with several friends who always assumed this was the extent of the restaurant, as it is also spotted with low tables and banquettes, offering a menu selection, as well.
At the far end of the lounge, however, is an arched brick passageway leading to the actual dining room. Newcomers gasp at the vastness of the room, adorned in bold colors and rich metallics, illuminated by candle light.
We certainly took full advantage of the sangria spread, but the food was what caught us by surprise. Brunch had always been enjoyable. Last night at dinner, however, our group fell head-over-feet in love with this Cuban gem.
We built our own ceviche sampler: (1) Fresco (top left) Rock Shrimp, Grilled Tomato, Rocoto Pepper, Citrus Juice; (2) Salmon (top riight) House Cured Salmon, Aji Amarillo, Sour Orange, Pineapple; (3) Mariscos (bottom left) Maine Lobster, Shrimp, Jicama, Cucumber, Yuzu-Orange Mojo; (4) Tuna Tiradito (bottom right) Sliced Ahi Tuna, Cucumber-Jicama Salad, Grilled Pineapple, Avocado, Lime Mojo.
The ceviche was exploding with flavor, and one of the tastier samplings I have enjoyed. Be extremely carutious with the Fresco, as the rocoto pepper forced me to extinguish the fire in my mouth with a glass of milk. Not the best pairing with a Bacardi banana sangria, but definitely necessary.
Service and presentation were impeccable. The empanada was removed from a cast iron empanada press, and placed on the tomato salad by the server, table side.
Mar y tierra (or surf 'n' turf) featured a mound of deliciously buttery petit filet and jumbo grilled shrimp on a pool of saffron cauliflower puree...
One of my favorite dishes was the Sunday special, the Lomo... adobo rubbed pork loin, with tobacco onion rings and a tangy roasted corn salsa.
My dish was flawless, and truly a festival of deliciousness. Paella is so very hit-or-miss for me, but Calle Ocho has created a masterpiece with this phenomenal version. My saffron rice was a succulent scavenger hunt of plump shrimp, mussels, clams, and chorizo. At the top of my plate was half a lobster, dressed with a tender grilled calamari and tomato salad. Though the other dishes at the table were wonderful, I will return for this again and again and again...
We ordered a sampling of desserts for the table, and one of my favorites was the crema catalana, a traditional Spanish caramelized dulche de leche (a rich cousin of creme brulee).
Cocos are toasted coconut and chocolate crusted coconut ice cream in a pool of pineapples and raspberry coulis.
The Cubanito was a peanut butter crust, filled with chocolate hazelnut mousse and topped with Cuban coffee ice cream.
The Bombas were little cinnamon-dusted doughnuts, filled with warm pastry cream. Spread a little bit of the banana ice cream on the top, and you have the perfect ending bite to the meal.