Calle Ocho, Upper West Side

I am happy to say I am about to review my favorite brunch restaurant of all time.  Believe me when I say, there is NOTHING in the world like having brunch at Calle Ocho on the Upper West Side.  It’s Latin American cuisine, which is good enough on it’s own, but the star of the show is the UNLIMITED sangria that is served with every brunch entree.  Folks, you can’t go wrong with Calle Ocho, it’s the first thing I recommend when anybody visits the city.

The thing that’s so impressive about Calle Ocho is that it literally succeeds at every. single. thing.  Food?  Delicious!  Drinks?  Strong and never-ending.  Atmosphere?  Fun, laid back, and oh so Latin-y.  Service?  On point.  Price?  Extremely reasonable.  Can you think of anything else?  If you can, I’m sure they nailed it as well.  To put it simply, I like going to Calle Ocho because the huge selection of sangria that automatically comes with your brunch is strong and delicious, the food is intensely flavorful, and you can get this all for less than $20.

Usually when I have friends or relatives visiting me in the city I try my hardest to take them to Calle Ocho for brunch.  It is the epitome of the New York brunch experience, and sure enough, they rave about it afterwards.  The inside is festive, colorful, and clean, and there’s usually Latin music playing which adds to the ambiance.  The only issue is that it’s nearly impossible to make a reservation or get a table by walking in, so usually when I go the only room they have is at the bar or the lounge area which is first-come first-serve and spots go fast.  So I recommend going early if you want to get it for sure.  Maybe at 11:30 or so. And believe me, it’s worth it if you do.  Also, one more crucial note is that they’ll only keep serving you alcohol as long as you’re still eating and have food on your plate.  So the professional bruncher such as myself has timed out the bite-to-sip ratio perfectly for ultimate alcohol consumption.

I actually only go to Calle Ocho sporadically, because I like to try new places and I know if I didn’t limit myself I’d be in there every weekend.  I think the last time I went was in June.  But last weekend Matt and I were tired and I didn’t want to research new brunch places so we were like “lets go to Calle Ocho!!” and I didn’t need much convincing.

We got a little bit of a late start and actually didn’t leave the apartment until 1.  When we walked in my heart dropped because sure enough the entire bar and lounge areas were packed.  I went hopefully to the hostess  and the manager who was standing nearby and told her that we were looking for room at the bar, unless they had any table open.  The hostess at first was like “ummm noooo” but then the manager grabbed two menus and literally said to the hostess “I don’t care” and led us to a two top.  To be clear, she definitely didn’t say it in a mean way, she said it smiling.  I’m guessing they had a reservation for two that they were waiting on and they hadn’t shown, so the manager was like “screw it I’m sitting these nice young people.”  But either way she sat us ahead of this huge line of girls that were clearly waiting for bar or lounge space, but whatever.

As soon as we sit, a nice young guy comes up and asks which sangria we want to start with.  My favorite sangria is the Havana Banana, which is mellow and sweet and a few lychees (which I love) and sliced coconut float around the bottom.  I could drink that all day.  And I almost forgot, every table gets served with an assortment of breakfast breads and muffins, with a side of strawberry butter.  Are you drooling yet?

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The picture above shows the Havana Bananas and the bread.  Honestly the meal could have ended there and I’d be perfectly happy.  But Matt and I had a reputation to protect so we tried to get through our first sangria before the food came.  BTW, these sangrias are no joke.  Not only are they huge, they’re strong too.  When you go yourself you’ll realize that getting through a full one before your food comes is actually an impressive speed. The picture below shows the Fresas sangria, and it was just as good but harder to drink fast.  The Fresas has a more berry flavor, but of course it’s made with red wine so it’s heavier and more potent then the light white wine ones.

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For my entree I ordered the Vegetariano, which is basically a brown paella with veggies.  It doesn’t sound as appealing as some of the other brunch options, but don’t be fooled.  This dish is PACKED with flavor and you won’t be disappointed.  I honestly can’t put my finger on the flavors that are absorbed in the rice; I was trying.  It tasted like it was slow simmered in a broth (I’m hoping not chicken but it probably was) with lots of salt and herbs.  In the past I’ve gotten the Arepa Con Salmon and the Maiz y Camarones.  The Arepa Con Salmon is basically a huge piece of smoked salmon on top of scrambled eggs, a corn arepa, and a caper cream sauce on top.  This dish was flavorful too, but after about 30 minutes the lemony caper sauce  mixed with egg started to get too overwhelming for my taste, so I decided not to order it again.  Matt got the Maiz y Camarones this time, and it was just as good as I remember it.  The grits are topped with sautéed shrimp, two poached eggs, chipotle hollandaise, cheese, and the bacon flavor is nicely incorporated.  Yum!  When Matt gets it though he likes to cut up the eggs and blend everything together which is a little unappetizing for me; if it was me I would keep them more separated to avoid the sloppy grits-egg combination that results from this.  Basically, I just like a bit of texture when I eat and want to taste the different flavors rather than having them all together.

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I actually didn’t even finish my Vegetariano because I was taking my time and I got too full!  That’s what happens every time I go there because I try and pace myself so they won’t cut the sangria off and I end up getting full too soon!  I successfully drank three glasses of sangria during our meal, which actually ain’t bad.  When we were finishing up our drinks Matt asked the manager if we could take the drinks to the lounge area to finish them because we didn’t want to hold the table.  The manager came to our rescue AGAIN and reserved us a table in the lounge area for when we were ready and so we could watch the football game (we were both wearing NFL t-shirts so I guess she assumed Matt wanted to watch the game).  The fact that she went out of her way to do that was really sweet and attentive, and it led to Matt writing a super nice yelp review.  For my review I give Calle Ocho 4.75/5 stars!  I really can’t stress enough how awesome of a place this is.  When you go, make sure to let me know because I’m coming with you!

 

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