Place: Calle Ocho
Neighborhood: Upper West Side, 446 Columbus Ave. (between 81st and 82nd St.)
The scoop: We were lucky enough to brunch during one of Calle Ocho’s last weekends before they move to their new location just around the corner. We were all very pleasantly surprised at how big and open the back dining area was! Each table had more than enough space, and you didn’t feel like you were on top of your neighbors. There were several big groups seated comfortably. The music was at the perfect volume where it provided a nice amount of background noise, but you could hear everyone in your party easily. The decor was very modern Latino. There were elements of classic Havana in the paintings on the wall, but the decor really fused the elements of old and new Cuba together quite nicely. Once we were situated at our table, a very friendly waitress named Britney came over to explain how their brunch works. She was so excited that we were brunching here for the first time and was very eager to share her drink and food recommendations with us. Over the course of the meal, we had several servers who were all very helpful.
Bottoms up: Calle Ocho has one of the best drink concepts in all of NYC! They have an orderly sangria bar that is included in the cost of your brunch entrée. Once you are seated, you can go up to the sangria bar as you please and help yourself! They have eight different kinds of sangria at the bar (see descriptions below). The four reds are mulata, fresas, Spanish Harlem and roja. The four whites are Havana banana, mojito, tropical and blanco. They really encourage you to try as many as you can, as well as to mix and match! We saw a few creative blends of whites and reds at nearby tables. The glasses at the beginning of the bar were well-stocked and they kept a bucket of ice up there as well. There was always at least one person behind the bar to ensure that each pitcher was full and ready to be poured!
Mulata: Hints of apple, great flavor, not overly sweet
Fresas: Strong berry flavor, contains raspberries, blueberries and strawberries
Spanish Harlem: Cinnamon, warms you up, good fall/winter drink
Roja: Traditional red sangria, fresh fruit
Havana banana: Banana flavor almost too much, very sweet
Mojito: Strong orange scent but no overpowering taste, flavors are subtle
Tropical: Pineapple flavor, very refreshing
Blanco: Traditional white sangria, crisp, great for summer
Chew on this:
Assorted muffins and breads with strawberry butter / Complimentary
The warm breads included chocolate bread, banana nut muffins and zeppole-like fried dough saucers, which were served in a Cuban cigar box. When we asked for more of a certain type of bread, they happily brought us a full box of them!
Vaca frita $18 / Cuban skirt steak, Latin fried rice, tomato escabeche, avocado, fried eggs
We were told several times that this was one of their most popular dishes. Now we can see why! I was initially expecting the steak to be crispier and shredded, but I was pleasantly surprised to see it come out the way it did. It was a little crispy on the outside and had a ton of flavor in it. Two fried eggs were served alongside the steak, and the steak was served on a bed of rice. This was probably some of the best fried rice I ever had. The flavors in this dish were unbelievable, and the avocado and tomato escabeche complemented the main ingredients of this dish quite well.
Burrito sucio $12 / Chorizo, scrambled eggs, black beans, tetilla cheese, salsa verde
The burrito had spicy salsa drizzled over the top and around the dish, making for great dipping. The inside of the burrito was overflowing with eggs and there was less chorizo sausage than I expected, but overall satisfying – a large amount of food. This dish was recommended by our server.
Vegetariano $15 / Wild mushroom paella, Guatemalan green bean salad, sweet pea vinaigrette
This dish tastes as good as it looks. In a Latin restaurant, paella is one of my favorite dishes to order and this was definitely one of the best paellas I’ve tasted. The perfect sticky texture of the rice combined with a medley of vegetables created bursts of flavor with every bite.
Tortilla Espanola $16 / Spanish frittata with asparagus, potatoes, piquillo peppers and wild mushrooms over crab enchilado
I loved this dish! It was nice to be able to get a creative egg dish. I love omelettes, but there are only so many times I can order them for brunch. This frittata had just the right amount of stuffing and the combination of the potatoes and vegetables was delicious. The crab enchilado was tomato based and so tasty that I could have just eaten it with bread. Bits of of crab with peppers and onions were mixed in the sauce and gave it excellent flavor. The dish was light but filling, which, to me, is perfect for brunch.
The final bite: This is the Brunch Gang’s first “cinco mimosa” rating, and we couldn’t be happier to give it to Calle Ocho! It had everything you could ever possibly want in a brunch: a fun ambiance, incredibly helpful staff, delicious and unlimited drinks and amazing food. We are looking forward to visiting them again in their new location.
Reviewed by: Brunch Gang