Who would’ve thought Gin and Tonics could be so fun? The vibe at Cata, a relatively new addition to the Lower East Side, makes the art of drinking and eating tapas completely different then the rest. Twenty-two different varieties of Gin and Tonics fill an entire long menu. You’ll find numerous traditional Spanish dishes, each with their own playful presentation and slightly twist. You’ll also find dishes completely out of left field, utilizing Spanish ingredients in ways you’ve never seen before. Don’t be afraid to try something kind of new, or totally out of your comfort zone. Chances are, Cata will change your perspective about many things.
The main room of Cata is filled with long, high tables, perfect for accommodating big groups. The noise level is perfect for actually being able to have a conversation with your group, without feeling like the other table is upset for the occasional squeal or rowdy toast.
Traditionally I steer away from both gin and tonic, but at Cata their twenty-two different varieties of this seemingly so simple drink can easily change your mind. Lemongrass, toasted coconut, grapefruit, ginger, to name a few. Options seem limitless, with the charismatic and knowledgeable waiter as your guide, you really can’t go wrong. I began with Toasted Coconut, after telling the waiter I neither like gin or tonic. After one sip, I liked both gin and tonic.
Sweet and smokey coconut makes gin smooth and refreshing, while the tonic adds a refreshing carbonation. The tonic is served on the side to prove that the drink is not all tonic and no liquor. Be careful when drinking these, they are strong and fabulous.
Also for show: Lemongrass Gin & Tonic, served with a totally different tonic and of course, appropriate garnishes.
Since we were a large group, we began ordering tons of food the table, which arrived as they were ready. Going to a place like this with a bunch of friends allows you to try everything, realize what’s your favorite, and then totally order the same thing again. We were very guilty of this with their ridiculous Bombas, stuffed with Manchego and Serrano Ham.
These little balls of cheesy, smokey, and spicy goodness were a favorite amongst our group. Basically a croquette with Manchego cheese and a tomato sauce instead of just an aioli, this dish is a really great start.
Pan Con Tomate is one of the simplest, yet addicting Spanish dishes. I crave it on the regular, and often go out of my way to find a great variation of the Tomato and Garlic toast dish. Cata makes a playful version, smothering toasted pieces of bread with olive oil and garlic. The tomato spread is served in a glass jar, next to a pile of sea salt.
I meannn. You can’t go wrong. Delicious, fun, garlicky.
Another highlight included a play on Eggs Benedict that you could eat any time of day. Over easy Quail Eggs sit on top of a disc of hash browns with a piece of crispy chorizo. Tell me what sounds bad about this?
If only all Eggs Benedict replaced the sad English muffin with a disc of crispy Hash Browns. Each piece is extremely small, hence the use of a quail egg, making it the perfect two-bite dish.
A few other of the tapas style dishes were all relatively good, but not nearly as memorable as the first three.
Fried broccoli, can’t really go wrong, but nothing too outstanding about this dish.
A grilled cheese sandwich that lacks the serious pizazz expected from the inclusion of truffles and serrano ham. It’s a fine grilled cheese sandwich, but nothing to write home about.
Crunchy, crispy fried fish that tastes like fried skin. It’s weirdly addicting, but I think because anything fried and slightly crispy can’t be bad. It’s like when you order calamari, even at the worst place, you end up finishing the whole bowl and don’t know why. It’s not bad, but it’s nothing outstanding either.
Finally, disappointment came in the form of my beloved Patatas Bravas.
The fried and season potatoes were fine, but that’s not the component that makes this dish usually so outstanding. The aioli wasn’t creamy but instead whipped to the point where there was too many air pockets inside. And the flavor was completely off. I longed for the spice that makes this signature Spanish dish. Skip this here and order one of the other tapas.
We ordered a large paella to share, served with Shrimp, Chorizo and surprisingly, chicken wings. Not so Spanish, but oh so delicious.
I’m obsessed with the Socarrat, the crispy crust of rice on the bottom of the cast iron skillet. I was sure to scrape the bottom to release all of the crunchy, slightly burnt goodness. All of the proteins were cooked to perfection. Although the Chicken Wing seemed a little out of place, it was delicious, nonetheless. A fabulous dish to round of the meal and leave all of us totally satisfied.
Just when you think New York City, especially the Lower East Side doesn’t need yet another tapas place, Cata defies all stereotypes and creates something different. Drinks are fun, sticking to one genre and making it special. Dishes are whimsical, without veering towards the category of unrecognizable. It’s always a serious hunt for a spot to get a big group together, and Cata is absolutely perfect for that kind of a night of good food, good drinks and a lot of great company.
Cata – 245 Bowery Street – New York, NY
Location: Lower East Side, NY
Type: Spanish, Tapas
Perfect For: Big Groups, Girls’ Night Out, Small Plates, Drinks, Casual Meal
Reservations: Recommended via OpenTable
Favorite Dishes: Quail Eggs Benedict, Pan Con Tomate, Bombas, Paella with Shrimp-Chorizo-Chicken Wings