Alta: a true hidden gem

Click on one of the images to read more abou that craving!
Moroccan BistillaBraised Oxtail RavioliTempura OysterTuna TatakiBacon AranciniCrispy Brussels Sprouts

Alta Restaurant

by Celia Sin-Tien Cheng
March 29, 2007

Everyone has local favorites for different occasions — a casual joint to grab a lite-bite, a good bar to meet friends for happy hour, a restaurant with nice décor and great food to host friends from out of town, or a place for larger dinner parties that don’t require reservations thirty days in advance. Luckily for me, my favorite neighborhood restaurant, Alta, fits the bill for all of the above.

Located on the south side of 10th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, and across from Piadina, Alta is slightly hidden. No prominent signs identify the restaurant, tucked away in a brownstone on one of Manhattan’s most beautiful residential streets. Once inside, you can hang out at the long accommodating bar. Or further in, you can dine in an unsuspectedly large and open, two-level dining area. The kitchen is upstairs, and there is another smaller, quaint dining room through the kitchen that overlooks 10th street — discreet and charming.

The owners, husband and wife team, Christopher Chesnutt and Ewa Olsen, have beautifully executed their vision of a Spanish-inspired small-plates restaurant. And Chef Harrison Mosher really brings to life the exquisite delicacies that he deems New York cuisine with a Spanish soul.

Harrison and his team are constantly playing and experimenting with new creations. The menu changes frequently, but staple favorites are always available. Two of mine are the crispy Brussels sprouts and Danish pork ribs. However, I am such a fan of the entire menu — old or new — that I am always up for “The Whole Shebang”: “That’s right, folks, everything on the menu.” And yes, I have had The Whole Shebang, which easily feeds eight.

The success of Alta is in its pursuit of what’s really good. The food and wine are stellar, the atmosphere pleasant and relaxing. Alta doesn’t aim to solicit publicity or be on the trendy forefront of New York’s dining scene. There’s no faux philosophy or rigid mission statements. When you are comfortable in your own skin, things come more naturally, and that’s the feeling here at Alta. Their customers appreciate their lack of pretense and fall in love with the good eats each time they visit — at least I do.

I hope you enjoy some of the small plates that I am sharing with you this month, but remember the menu does change! So don’t be afraid to try different things. That’s the spirit of small plates, try everything — it’s fun!

Alta Restaurant

by Celia Sin-Tien Cheng
March 29, 2007

Moroccan Bistilla

Moroccan Bistilla of Chicken Confit

creamy eggs, scallion with Piri Piri sauce

This bistilla (layers of phyllo dough with spiced meat inside) is just dreamy! Using chicken confit for the meat ensures the richest of flavors. The chicken is tender and succulent and the scrambled eggs truly creamy (really well scrambled eggs are not easy to find). Added into the mix are sweet, dried currants, long slivers of scallions, delicately sliced almonds, mint, cilantro and rasel hanu, a Moroccan spice mix that includes ground anise, cardamom, clove, black pepper, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, ginger, nutmeg and more. Wow! That was a long sentence, but there’s truly so much yumminess wrapped inside the phyllo dough, I just wanted to finish it in one sentence. The accompanying Piri Piri, a Portuguese spicy sauce, is HOT, but this dish gets a HOTT from me for being so good.

Alta Restaurant

by Celia Sin-Tien Cheng
March 29, 2007

Braised Oxtail Ravioli

porcini foam, watercress, and piquillo pepper

For such a heavy meat and pasta dish, the final outcome of this braised oxtail ravioli is surprisingly light and delightful. It could have something to do with the porcini foam, which though rich in flavor lends an ethereal quality to the dish. But besides that, the strips of preserved lemon peel add a refreshing citrus essence that is both salty and tart. The pasta itself made with porcini, actually looks like the mushrooms, dark brown/grey. The oxtail inside is tender and juicy. There are four pieces of ravioli in an order so if you are worried about pasta being too heavy, have no fear. In fact, you might be fighting over the last pieces with whomever you are sharing!

Alta Restaurant

by Celia Sin-Tien Cheng
March 29, 2007

Tempura Oyster

Tempura Oysters

lychee foam, celery leaves, and chorizo oil

It’s really difficult to master the frying technique of tempura, but Alta seems to have done it. Tempura should be light and crisp. You’d expect this deep-fried oyster dish to be greasy and heavy, like the breaded deep-fried oysters we are accustomed to eating, but it is not. The tempura oysters are surrounded by a sea of lychee foam so light and aromatic that you feel rejuvenated after tasting it. Although the celery leaves are added as a garnish, their distinctive flavor leaves a refreshing aftertaste. The beautiful orange dots in this piece of artwork are chorizo oil. They not only add a visually stunning element to the dish but also embellish it with that irresistible flavor of chorizo. What’s not to love?

Alta Restaurant

by Celia Sin-Tien Cheng
March 29, 2007

Tuna Tataki

Tuna Tataki

cantaloupe cloud, marsala caviar, proscuitto flakes, toasted hazelnut

Tuna tataki (seared tuna) is a great choice on the menu because it’s light, healthy, and yummy. Small cubes of delicately seared tuna sit in a cloud of cantaloupe foam. The juxtaposition of the sweet fruit, savory tuna and caviar is not overpowering in the least. If anything, the strongest flavor comes from the proscuitto flakes. But because the meat is shredded into bits, even its rich flavor plays nicely with the rest of the team. (Bits of mint leaves also counter the strength of the proscuitto flavor.) Finally, the crunch of the hazelnut brings the journey to a smooth, satisfying finale and leaves a nice aftertaste.

Alta Restaurant

by Celia Sin-Tien Cheng
March 29, 2007

Bacon Arancini


fried quail eggs, Guindilla peppers, aged gouda, and truffle vinaigrette

Since it’s a small plate, the arancini (Sicilian rice balls) are bite-sized. They are deep-fried to croquette-like perfection and gooey inside. Bits of bacon accent the rice with decided flavor. Adorably, a tiny fried quail’s egg tops each ball. For garnish, slices of pickled Guindilla peppers add a little accent of spice and tanginess, and the truffle vinaigrette — in which the rice balls sit like little islands — adds a richness that balances the subtle flavors of the rice balls. The matching of all these flavors and ingredients show how much thought has been put into making this perfect composition. And yes! The arancini taste as good as they sound.

Alta Restaurant

by Celia Sin-Tien Cheng
March 29, 2007

Crispy Brussels Sprouts

Crispy Brussels Sprouts

Fuji Apples, crème fraiche, pistachio nuts

The Brussels sprouts are always on the menu at Alta and they are one of the restaurant’s signature dishes. Their success speaks to chef Harrison Mosher’s talent — he has made a loathed vegetable into a best selling item. What’s the secret? Deep fry the sprouts, add some apple cider reduction to make them taste caramelized, and add a little crème fraiche to make everything good. The crushed pistachios, add a crunch that contrasts the Brussels sprouts softness, always a favorite, too. How could this combination not be a crowd pleaser?! I know it’s a little hard to identify what’s what in the photo but believe me, close your eyes and take a bite, and it will instantly make it on your cravings list too!

Alta Restaurant

by Celia Sin-Tien Cheng
March 29, 2007

Atla Restaurant

64 W 10th St
(5th & 6th Ave)
New York, NY 10011

M-Th 6pm-11pm
F-Sa 6pm-1am
Su 6pm-10:30pm


Comments (3)


Apr 30, 09:23 AM

After reading this feature on Alta I decided to go there and try it for myself. It sounded like the perfect place to meet a friend, and kill some time before a networking cocktail party. Though I only had the time (and funds) to sample two dishes the lamb meatballs with butternut squash foam and lebne, and bacon wrapped dates and olives stuffed with almonds they were enough to impress me, I will definitely be back! (Hopefully with enough people to try “The Whole Shebang” and some of those delicious sounding drinks.



Aug 18, 02:34 PM

Not going there: the un-Danny Meyer joint.
SNOOTY! When I called — “For parties of 6, on Fris and Sats., the times we have available are 7:30 or 9:45.” I declined. Can you believe, the ‘reservationist’ (fem.) called back (caller ID I guess) saying that I had been rude and it wasn’t appreciated. She’s lucky she went into my (new) voicemail bc she would REALLY have gotten an earful.


Mar 20, 09:59 PM

Really, Chris, you are serving such terrific food but your business sense is strikingly poor! How do you reconcile the two? I had a terrific meal there with three other people, spent close to $400, and was rudely asked to leave as I was settling the check. When I confronted your “manager”, he said that Chris would want him to ask a reservation to leave in order to make room for a waiting table (at 10:30 PM on a Saturday). Simply horrendous. I would never return and would tell others to STAY AWAY. Cheers!

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