Pete Wells Awards Café Altro Paradiso Two Stars

The New York Times' restaurant critic proved the saying, “don't judge a book by its cover,” correct with his latest review

The simplistic, yet delicious dish of whole turbot, neatly presented with just lemon and ramps.

Remember that old saying, it's what's inside that counts? That holds true in the case of the recently opened Italian eatery, Café Altro Paradiso. Since opening about 11 weeks ago, Pete Wells claims he has taken some, “photographs that are as awful as the food is good” and continues to compare some of his most enjoyable dishes with descriptions of unappetizing visions that include, “ a close-up of a skinned knee, or an aerial shot of a dormant volcano made out of flesh.” Sounds terrifying, and yet, he describes the actual taste of the same dish, the carpaccio, as “simple and marvelous.”

Wells believes that the aesthetically unpleasing aspect of Café Altro Paradiso's dishes, in stark contrast to the taste of them, “can’t be an accident.” The chef de cuisine, Aidan O’Neal, under the direction of Ignacio Mattos, the chef and an owner, creates dishes that essentially, “strip food down to the bare elements of flavor.” In other words, his dishes are all flavor — no fluff, no unnecessary décor on the plates.

Taking the theme of a simple Italian café, this restaurant has its servers in “proletarian button-up jackets of navy blue cotton,” and only serves dinner for now. Though servers warn of the small portions of the dishes, especially when it comes to pasta, the pasta is the real deal. Wells instructs to, ““Eat the slow-cooked chicken ragù brightened with briny green olives and tossed with skinny, chewy tubes of garganelli...” or “Have the near-transparent sheets of cannelloni rolled up around a light, unsoggy filling of ricotta flecked with greens, and you should be even happier.” That said, Café Altro Paradiso serves other, more hearty entrees, that include the “supper-club lamb chop, or the polenta and stewed onions under a lobe of calf’s liver, so creamy inside it’s like a pink organ-meat custard.” The only thing it seems Well was unimpressed with was the “thickish pork Milanese, no thrill especially when served with unsalted peas and favas.”

Don't forget dessert! Wells was quite impressed by “how perceptively the pastry kitchen has located the sensuous side in some traditional Italian-cafe sweets.” He goes on to say that, “the dark and bittersweet chocolate-walnut torta is intense without congealing into fudge, and the rhubarb crostata has a crust that’s a pleasure on its own. Even the gelato is a nice surprise.” So next time you're in want for innovative takes on simple Italian, head over.

For Pete Well's complete review, click here.

For more New York City dining and restaurant news, click here.