October 20, 2003 | Ask Gael
I’m a West Sider, and I hate to roam.

        Dazzled by the gold rush of prime chefs to the neighborhood, I’d simply forgotten Calle Ocho. So, what a surprise to catch a remarkable renaissance, since consulting chef Douglas Rodriguez began stirring the pots. Expect a couple of pure Rodriguez jolts—like the panko-crusted oysters on a fufu-and-horseradish spinach bed and Cuban pork with sour-orange mojo. Most everything else we tasted was remarkably clean, elegant, yet dancing with flavor. Who knew the over-the-top creator of Patria and Ola had this vein of delicate finesse lurking inside? All the ingredients of a paella (even the rice, in the form of a crispy cake) appear in his elegant paella seviche. And there are bacon-wrapped dates nested in the royal palm salad. Luscious yuca fries straddle the Cuban-style sirloin alongside a rich tomato-manchego salad. Two could happily make a dinner of the grilled beef, shrimp enchilada, and chicken anticucho on its elevated platter with sauces and a ration of warm tortillas to stuff. No need to weep if you can’t get into Tom Valenti’s latest.

446 Columbus Avenue, near 81st Street 212 873 5025


Cafe Fiorello

Patina Restaurant Group