Dining

Walk Softly

Nolita's Estela is gutsy in its sweet simplicity

Wherever Ignacio Mattos goes, we are sure to follow (and you should, too).

The peripatetic Uruguayan chef, most recently seen at Isa's original incarnation, has made a wonderfully soft landing at Nolita's new Estela.

He's dropped anchor at an airy alley of a second-floor space, where he is cooking food that is all lightness and pluck. To build a restaurant Dream Team, former Blue Hill at Stone Barns beverage director Thomas Carter is captaining the liquid side of things.

Surprises abound: What is surely a winner for the world's most boring-sounding menu item, "Lettuce with tahini and sunflower seeds" ($11), is instead dense freshness, with a swath of tahini tucked under Little Gem lettuce, and a scattering of chia seeds making a cameo.

In another dish, rounds of yellow grapefruit and raw pink scallops intertwine, the colors diffused under a sprinkle of chile flakes and feathery fennel fronds ($17).

Even beef tartare is ethereal in flavor, each mouthful a mix of fish sauce, egg-yolk-fried shards of sunchokes, and the deep resonance of raw beef heart ($15).

This is food that defies easy categorization: The offbeat flourishes and juxtapositions are peculiar enough to make you sit up straighter, but they startle gently. No bashing with flavor at Estela.

Our advice: Seize summer's city-emptying effect and visit Estela ASAP, before the gathering buzz turns into hurricane-force clamor.

Estela 47 E. Houston St. New York NY 10012 212-219-7693

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