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May 22, 2013 03:35 PM

Cata -- Solid Tapas on the Lower East Side

Had an early dinner here this past Sunday before attending a show. The brick and wood room was quite spacious. Most of the the seating in the room to your left as you enter is communal style and there is a long, attractive bar, with a display case for their fresh seafood, chilled on ice. However, the air was very musty due to the rain on Sunday, so the inside smelled quite damp and a little stuffy. To combat the dampness, the air conditioning was turned on full blast, which helped things somewhat. Hopefully the room is nicer when the weather is better.

The menu is a little intimidating due to its length. We asked for quite a bit of help from our server, who was excellent. She was also efficient at refilling our water glasses, which is always nice. They also have a huge gin and tonics list which seems to be the main draw here.

We started with a nice seared foie gras, served with some rhubarb, an excellent pairing. I'll also note that the online menu is a little out of date as this dish is listed differently. Our portion was not huge but also not small, and cost $10.50. Our padron peppers were delicious, charred and salty, but it's not really a dish that's hard to screw up.

I had wanted to try the razor clams a la plancha, to compare to Casa Mono, but the server informed us they were out. They were also out of the baked oysters with bone marrow crust (boo). We settled for the mussels with salsa verde instead. Well cooked and the sauce was tasty.

The jamon iberico bellota was also pretty good. I noticed that they hand slice (as is traditional and the method preferred by experts), so bonus points for that. They serve Fermin, which is pretty good but not as fatty and luxurious as the 5Js brand that they serve at Tertulia.

The mushrooms a la plancha with shallots and red wine were excellent, though a bit of a "standard" dish you see at many places nowadays. We also had the stuffed piquillo peppers with smoked tuna, crème fraîche, horseradish. Served cold, two peppers with what was essentially tuna salad inside. This was good but didn't seem to stand out in any way; however, it was a nice balance to the other dishes.

The cauliflower dish sounded much better on paper than in real life. Despite being served with jalapeno broccoli purée and Valley Thunder cheddar, the flavors were muddled and unfocused. It never really came together. This was the only serious misfire of the meal.

Overall, we had a nice time. The space is large and I imagine it fills up on weekend nights with people drinking. I'd go back if I were in the neighborhood, and try more of their seafood dishes, but I wouldn't go out of my way to eat at Cata.

Note: the entrance is not on Bowery, but on Stanton Street. The exterior is a little nondescript.

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  1. Slightly off this topic, but do they hand slice the bellota at Tertulia as well?

    1 Reply
    1. re: Alan Henderson

      Yes, they do. Theirs also comes with pan con tomate and olives, and I believe the portion is slightly bigger.

      As listed on the menu:

      "Jamón Ibérico De Bellota
      acorn-fed ibérico ham, acorn-fed ibérico ham, cut by hand, served with pan con tomate"

    2. that sounds like it's worth a shot. your note that your wait person took care to refill water made me take notice because i've found that tapas/small plates places can discourage that, since liquor sales are suc a large part of the equation. i'd also still consider that cauliflower dish, just on paper it sounds so good!

      1. Thanks for this informative review. I am going to Cata tomorrow with some friends. A few questions - first, have you been back? Wondering if any opinions have changes. Second - any good spots to grab a drink close by? It's 5 gals who like a good cocktail! Thanks so much!

        3 Replies
        1. re: LBNJNY

          I would highly recommend having your drink at Cata and checking out their Gin & Tonic menu. It's incredible. There must be 25 variations, using all different infusions, fresh herbs and unusual tonics.

          They are also really beautifully presented:

          I'm not usually a G&T fan, and even I enjoyed them (although there is also a nice menu of other drinks if you prefer). We had them with the deviled eggs with fried oysters, which I also recommend.

          1. re: Oliverstreet

            Thank you Kathryn! I love the G&T's but I am afraid for my buddies! :) Will check out the Cocktail Club you mention below and post our food review. Appreciate the intel!

          2. Just to circle back, the experience at Cata was quite good. The entire place was open and it was a gorgeous night, so no mustiness like you encountered. In fact, it was really lovely to have the open air experience. The decor and shared tables were very pretty. We had some excellent gin cocktails - the mint, the rose/cucumber and the lemon thyme were the favorites.

            We shared the chick pea fritters and the patatas bravas. Both very tasty. Also had the excellent foie gras in a jar served with brioche toasts. Very decadent. The paella was surprisingly tasty - not too large of a plate, but very well seasoned with the necessary soccarat on the bottom. Yum. The peppers stuffed with smoked tuna were not everyone's faves.

            Also had an exceptionally good Chablis for $40 which is not a bad price.

            I'd recommend Cata for a girls shareable dinner night for sure. The service was solicitous - good ideas and very available when we needed refills/new orders.

            1. nice report, this place is a few blocks from my apartment, so been meaning to try...actually walked in one sat night, but wasn't in the mood to wait so decided to go somewhere else

              will def try soon