This week launches the daytime menu at Cafe Altro Paradiso, following what’s turned out to be a challenging year for the owners. The sophomore restaurant from Estela team chef Ignacio Mattos and front-of-house Thomas Carter never got quite as much buzz as Estela; it’s hard to top a visit from President Barack Obama. In short, as Carter tells Eater, “We learned our lesson here.”
That lesson came with the “slap in the face” realization that what people wanted from the duo was different from what they were offering. “We didn’t want to have another Estela, but people expected another Estela,” Mattos says in the sun-drenched dining room at Altro Paradiso. “We wanted to do something more honest, less cheffy.”
Maybe some diners saw less cheffy as boring. Eater critic Robert Sietsema wrote a generally favorable review, though the headline hinted at this disparity, calling Altro Paradiso a “plodding workhorse” compared to “racehorse” Estela. The New York Times critic Pete Wells summed it up by saying, “Sometimes Mr. O’Neal [the chef de cuisine] and Mr. Mattos manage to push simplicity in directions that seem novel. Other times, they don’t push quite hard enough, and it’s hard to tell Café Altro Paradiso apart from the hordes of other restaurants where you can have cheese and salami followed by a so-so pork cutlet.”
In response, Mattos and Carter doubled down on the restaurant, spending the majority of their time there — despite opening uptown Flora Bar just seven months later. Perhaps in the ultimate sign of giving the people what they want, Mattos posted this week on Instagram that he is developing an Italian-style burger.
Now that the food at Altro Paradiso “is finally getting where it needed to be from day one,” according to Mattos, the duo has rolled out the all-day cafe menu to lead into dinner. But the daytime menu had been in the works the works since they had opened, Mattos says. “Now it’s time to start taking it where we envisioned it: as an all-day cafe that you can hang out in and utilize the space.”
The restaurant does seem built for a daytime experience, with its huge windows, high ceiling, and bustling corner location. And it’s where pastry chef Natasha Pickowicz can shine, putting together a one-page menu (in full below) of pastries and light sandwiches, plus Parlor coffee. The menu will evolve, but from here on out, Altro Paradiso is open from Monday through Friday starting at 8 a.m.
“Finally, we’re settling down,” Mattos says. “Maybe we didn’t so clearly define it in the moment, but we see this place as becoming an institution of New York.”