Great food, service and ambiance! Delicious sangria (read on to find out how you can get a glass for free ;D) with lots of variety. Definitely want to come back for brunch!
Number of visits: 1
Our free sangrias! Fresas and Punta Cana
(81st St. & Columbus Ave.)
To celebrate yet another birthday (HAPPY BIRTHDAY, URI), my friends and I headed over to Calle Ocho to satisfy the birthday girl's sangria cravings (after failing to snatch a spot at Nai Tapas Bar). Having heard so many good things about this place, I was excited to try it out — and I'm glad I did!
We made reservations for 6 on a Friday night and rolled in around 6:30 to an unexpectedly not-too-packed restaurant. The space was very big, and the hostess led us to a divided section of the restaurant, where they seemingly placed big parties. Not surprisingly, the venue was very well-decorated and had a great, romantic ambiance. Some may complain that it's too dark, but I thought it was just dim enough.
One of my friends and I got there first, and the waiter gave us our bread basket promptly. The bread, which were yucca buns, and the "butter," which was a black bean dip/spread, were amazing. The buns were warm, buttery and soft, and the spread was incredibly flavorful and delicious. Even my friend, who despises black beans, loved it.
Yucca buns, black bean dip and menu
While we were waiting for the rest of our party to arrive, my friend and I got our free glasses of sangria. HOW? By checking in on Yelp! With our phones, we checked into Calle Ocho using the Yelp app, which scored us each a free glass of any of their sangrias (they have 4 or 5 options for white and red each).
This is the screen you get once you check in on Yelp. Once you hit the "Use it Now!" button, you're set!
I had the Punta Cana (white sangria with Mamajuana Hispanola, peaches, oranges, pineapple and rum), and my friend had the Fresas (red with blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and raspberry vodka), and both were GREAT. They were super refreshing and just sweet enough to make the drink yummy but not overwhelming — not to mention definitely strong enough to get me preeettttyyyyy tipsy (but then again, I'm a lightweight and hadn't eaten much that day). I would most certainly recommend these, even if you don't have the Yelp app and can't get it for free. For $9, you get a sizable glass to sip on throughout your meal.
When the rest of our group arrived, we decided to order a bunch of appetizers and go family/tapas style. Here's what we got.
Langosta (poached lobster, tomato, scallion, grapefruit, passion-chili mojo): Refreshing, slightly tangy and yummy, but this ceviche lacked a wow factor. The lobster was meaty and well-cooked, but something about the accompaniments and the dish as a whole was a little off. I probably wouldn't spend $18 on this again.
Datiles (bacon-wrapped almond-stuffed dates, hearts of palm, cabrales): DELICIOUS. These were recommended by the server, and I'm glad we listened to him. The almond-stuff dates were perfectly nutty and sweet, which was well-balanced with the saltiness from the bacon. It did come with some sort of cheesy dressing on top, of which I wasn't a fan — I wish I'd known about it before ordering it.
2 orders of Calamari Frito (crispy calamari, Dominican honey, cashews, organic sprout salad): I'm a huge fan of calamari, and I was pleased to find that these were also awesome. The dressing gave the dish sort of an Asian flair (the sweetness from the honey reminded me of a ginger-soy-type sauce), and the calamari was pleasantly crispy and not chewy.
Calamari Frito ($13)
A side of Perfecto (arepas, yucca fries, sweet plantains, black beans and rice): This thing is a great deal ($18)! It's easy to miss as it's not under appetizers or entrees, but it was a perfect addition to our family-style dinner. The plantains, beans and rice were great, but I wasn't a big fan of the yucca fries as they were a bit dry and overly starchy. I didn't get to try the arepas (comes with four), but those who did have a taste liked them!
Another thing to note about Calle Ocho is the excellent service. The staff was very friendly and accommodating, and they weren't pushy at all even though we were there for quite a while. I was especially impressed by how polite and pleasant they were when it was just me and one friend manning a table of 6 for about 20~30 minutes. The servers didn't give us the stink eye or any kind of vibe that made use feel uncomfortable or that pressured us to order — instead, they gave us awesome suggestions and answered all of our questions with a smile.
That being said, I think it's obvious that I'd come back here. But next time, I definitely want to try to snatch a spot for brunch (apparently you need to book months in advance) as they have complimentary sangria during brunch hours! I'll have to find a day that'd be good for a boozy brunch (TOMORROW?! No, wait ... tomorrow's only Thursday).