During one period of my life, I used to make an espresso every afternoon and drink it while standing up in my apartment. Why? Because I was addicted to caffeine, but more importantly, because I enjoyed pretending I was Italian.
It was a very certain type of Italian: one who wears an entirely tan wardrobe, probably owns a vintage bicycle, gets photographed on fashion blogs but doesn't give a sh*t about that. Definitely drinks espresso while standing up every afternoon.
Cafe Altro Paradiso, it seems, also would like to be a cool, laid back, understated Italian. And at times, they do it right: a lot of the food is tasty, the service is great, and if you hit it early in the evening, the light shines in through the big windows in a way that's pretty damn nice. At other times, like when you order a kind of boring octopus or a pasta that's just a bit too minimalist, that attempt at an expensive tan suit just ends up looking like, well, a pair of regular khakis.
The food here, obviously, is Italian, but you're not going to find any red sauce (tan suit, remember?). The menu changes daily - they're either still getting a feel for what dishes work best or just really enjoy mixing it up - so it's tough to say what exactly to expect on a given night. That said, the appetizer section is the strongest (and seems to change the least), the pastas are small and tasty but not quite-destination worthy, and the entrees are actually pretty large - not usually something to write home about but a good move if you want to share something filling.
Cafe Altro Paradiso is run by the people behind Estela, the funky and beloved restaurant in Nolita that Obama ate in once. And frankly, if you haven't tried Estela, we'd direct you there first. It's cozier, a little more fun, and more of an essential New York restaurant. Cafe Altro Paradiso, on the other hand, is a nice place to have a glass of wine or a cocktail, perhaps at the bar, along with some starters and maybe a main course to share.
Finish it off, of course, with an espresso.
Our favorite thing here, this is a thin beef carpaccio laid over what is basically a heavily dressed salad and potato chips. Get all of those elements into one bite, wash down with a glass of red wine, repeat.
Anchovies with some butter and parsley on toast. Go for it if you like things that taste like the ocean.
Your friendly neighborhood fish crudo, topped with caper berries, which are essentially very large, mild capers. This is minimalism done nicely.
Not much to see here: the octopus was a bit mushy, and the chickpeas don't add much in terms of texture. Look elsewhere in terms of appetizers.
If you're the kind of person who gets really, really excited about diving headfirst into a bowl of hearty pasta, or the kind of person who reserves pasta for special occasions, this is not the place for you to go all in. These are delicate, mild options, and while they're enjoyable, they're rarely destination-worthy. We liked a simple spaghetti with pine nuts and lemon, found a gnocchi with sausage to be solid enough, and thought a cannelloni was pretty skippable. Expect about five different options a night.
Another section that changes a lot, expect about four different main courses per night. We enjoyed two different breaded chicken options as something to share with the table - the more interesting of which was topped with a take on a tonnato sauce that was made out of swordfish. Turns out fish on top of breaded chicken cutlets = pretty good. Beef and lamb make frequent appearances here too.