Did we really need another Spanish restaurant in New York City? Probably not. And for that matter, did we need a new Spanish restaurant opening on the absurdly over-crowded Lower East Side? Definitely not. Actually, let’s say from now on that the LES is officially full. Sold out. There’s no more room for anything, and that includes but is not limited to: bars, lounges, pizza joints, places that sell Vietnamese sandwiches, restaurants operated by any company called “The (Something) Group,” music venues, Miami-style condos, and Rag & Bone stores. Take that stuff to another place that could really use the economic development, like the West 30s, or North Korea.
As you might be able to tell, we haven’t exactly been lamenting the absence of good Spanish food in this city lately, nor have we been dying to hang out anywhere near the Lower East Side vortex. But a friend was in town, and for one reason or another we ended up this ’hood in search of something new and good to eat. Luckily, we’d heard some nice things about Cata, a new tapas restaurant on Bowery that for some reason also specializes in gin and tonics. I guess you’ve got to specialize in something.
After now having more than one meal at Cata, we are here to tell you that this is place is actually really good. Say what you will about the fact that the traditional tapas restaurant is starting to feel tired (I said that), but the food on this menu is very solid and reasonably priced. We also like the room a lot. It’s well appointed and large enough that getting a table here isn’t a huge pain in the ass, but it’s also not so big that it feels impersonal. The communal tables and long section of counter seating also make for an informal vibe, which is then magnified by the super chill wait staff. It’s a nice change of pace from the all the small, cramped restaurants around here that are full of waiters who think they’re the James Franco of food service. Don’t worry, dude. You’re gonna break out any moment.
Despite all of the angry things we started off saying in this review, we’re actually really glad that Cata decided to open its doors in this over-crowded part of town. We may not need another Spanish restaurant, but we can always use more restaurants that do what they do well and make people feel like their money has been well spent. We will definitely be back, if only to reacquaint ourselves with the gin and tonic. Pretty sure the ones I had at Cata were the first since my second senior year of college. And I’m also pretty sure the ones I drank back then didn’t have small batch gin and/or ice in them.
As any self-respecting Spanish food enthusiast should know, if the restaurant claims to have super fresh razor clams, you order the super fresh razor clams. We did exactly that at Cata, and they were incredible. These Long Island clams didn’t have much on them other than some lemon, parsley, and garlic, and they didn’t need much else.
One of the more unique things we saw on the menu here, so we went for it. These are tiny little quail eggs given a Spanish-style benedict treatment on top of a disc of hash browns and a piece of chorizo. Eat these or we’re not friends anymore.
Traditional and awesome croquetas. The roasted chicken in there has lots of roasty flavor and is therefore delicious.
A few nice pieces of skirt steak cooked on la plancha and served with kimchi rice of all things. It’s a nice combination on the plate, and in your stomach.
Maybe we just liked everything else more, but for some reason we weren’t really feeling this octopus dish. It wasn’t bad by any means, but it also wasn’t all that memorable.
This pile of shaved vegetables on the other hand, was surprisingly good. The veggies are well seasoned and mixed up with some candied nuts and citrus, and ought to help you survive the meat section of the menu.
Grilled shrimp in garlic. What could go wrong? These are simple enough and good.
We are slowly starting to like fideos (noodle paella) more than rice paella. Maybe we’re just really into noodles, especially when they’ve been slightly crispified. Cata’s seafood fideos is no exception to that trend, and it helps that the various seafood parts in there are really fresh. You also end up with so much food that $25 for two people is a pretty good deal.