Went last weekend. I thought the food was good, and the wine list impressive. The service, however, was terrible. We ordered everything all at once, concerned about how fast and what order it would come out. Our waiter assured us that the kitchen "knew" what order was best, in terms of lightest to heaviest dishes, and would pace us appropriately. That happened, with the first few dishes, and then they came at us fast and furious! Plus, they just forgot about us until we flagged someone down.
As for dishes to try - the lamb meatballs were superb, as were the goat cheese balls. The brussel sprouts were a little leafy.
Maybe would try again with a larger group, or just drinks at the bar. The Sangria was pretty good.
It's a lot easier to do it family style then plate individually, but you lose in terms of fanciness, so that's up to you.
I suggest making a main course that can be cooked entirely in advance and just reheated, like something with chicken pieces. There's a great well-known recipe for chicken pieces with prunes and olives, but the name is escaping me right now.
Some low-cost things that are very filling- CARBS!pasta (you could serve this as a side, or as a first course, before smaller portions of chicken or meat). Use a cream sauce to make it richer and more filling.
Rice - this can be tricky to make well in larger groups, so just be careful with it.
potatoes- make a potato salad- one with red bliss potatoes and dill and light vinegarette will be fancier than your typical mayo based kind. this can be made in advance.
For dessert- individual mousses can be made in advance but you need a refrigerator to hold them (use small platic wine cups). Or for easier and cheaper, make rich brownies. Heat them up, put a piece on a plate with a scoop of ice cream or whipped cream and berries if you can find them.
Glad to hear more people liking Alta. I went couple weekd ago & had a great time. Two favorites were Goat Cheese with Honey dish & thin slices of Squid with lots of flavor. We ordered 3 plates & pacing was good, order 3-4 more and pacing was good again. However, it took some time to get a hold of the waitress to order the second round. Thank god we had bottle of spanish red on the table otherwise would have been long night. The upstairs is really pleasant & romantic while the downstairs is tight & very loud. One thing I didn't like was there was no bread or olives or anything on the table, would have been nice, thats all.
Thanks for the report!
I wouldn't try drinks at the bar if you're concerned about service. The first and only time I went to Alta was for drinks (Alta is down the street from a friend of mine). I asked the bartender for an apple martini. He rudely told me that the bar didn't offer them, and then turned away and didn't give me the option of ordering another drink. It must have been another 5 mins before he came back--and my 2 friends and I were the only people at the bar at the time!
I would never go back to Alta. While the food is ok, their attitude is way too big for its britches.
Upon booking a reservation for 6:30 on a Tuesday, the host gives an ultimatum that the party must be out by 8:00 p.m. because they need to turn over the table. In all my years dining in NYC, no one has ever given me an ultimatum upon making a reservation. Not to mention that every time I've ever dined there, the dining room hasn't even been that full. The owner declined our reservation, sending our group scrambling for a new place to. Thankfully, Tia Pol graciously accomodated our group with less than an hour's notice, and let us stay well beyond an arbitrary 1.5 hour limit. And Tia Pol is of much higher quality and stature than Alta, for sure.
Needless to say, I would highly recommend not dining here - solely on the basis of the managment's ridiculous attitude.
I must disagree with the assertion that the service at Alta is that bad. I honestly cannot even remember a single time I went to Alta and had bad service. Sometimes you do start feeling pummelled with dishes, but it's tapas, not courses, so I think it's that way for a reason - so that your table can share a variety of things. I also love the atmosphere - when you walk down those few steps, you feel a true escape from the city as you enter this sort of rustic yet elegant environment.
Perhaps I've been very lucky but I've always been pleased by an evening at Alta and don't remember any kind of attitude. I guess I'm a fan!
I'm a fan as well -- I haven't had service problems, but that could be because we usually sit at the bar where the bartenders are quite gracious and very on top of things. We usually order a couple of dishes at a time, and continue ordering until we're full, which staggers the plate delivery well.
As for being told that you could only have the table for an hour and a half, this is increasingly common in New York (Frank Bruni addressed it on his blog about a week ago on the New York Times website, it happened to him with Nobu, I think). When this happens, the restaurant often views it as a courtesy to the guest. They were offering you a table that they might not normally fill at that hour - since there wasn't going to be time to serve a full leisurely meal before the next reservation came in - but since it was the only table they had to offer for the time you wanted, they were giving you the option (to take or turn down), in case you weren't looking to have a long meal.
Phrasing it as an ultimatum, rather than an offer with a caveat - it seems that Alta wasn't quite kind or patient enough in explaining the situation to you, which is too bad, since their food is delicious. So is Tia Pol's, so it sounds like you had a fine night in the end.