We are about that tacos & tequila – and mezcal – life and if you are too, then you should get to Alta Calidad in Prospect Heights. The brainchild of Chef Akhtar Nawab, who is clearly very comfortable with Mexican cuisine as former Executive Chef at La Esquina and a partner in Choza, Alta Calidad is truly high quality as the name suggests.
The bright and airy 39-seat restaurant and bar delivers a serious beverage program by David Boxwill to complement Chef Ahktar’s soulful cuisine. Boxwill put together a beverage program that serves up fun lots of delicious fun including 8 cocktails, red, white, rosé and sparkling wines (mainly Spanish), beers, fresh pressed juice, Mexican soda and addictive housemade horchata. As one would expect, the cocktail menu is heavily focussed on agave, with half of the drinks being made with either tequila or mezcal. But there is pretty much something for you no matter your spirit taste.
Some highlights include the El Jardin cocktail with blanco tequila, poblano pepper juice, lime juice, agave and chapulin (grasshopper) salt,
the Palm Fan with aged rum, B&B and black walnut bitters
the Carmen with blanco tequila, pink peppercorn, young guava, citrus and egg white.
If beer is your thing, we say go for a Tecate Sucia (fully dressed) or if you are with a friend, get a giant 32 oz Corona Familar to share.
Boxwill says that he will change the menu seasonally and adds, “Right now we are testing our clients palates daily, with specialty cocktails, seeing where their preferences lie and at the same time pushing them a little and leading them into our world of spirit moodiness.”
We suggest scoring a coveted bar stool and immediately ordering up one of the two Queso Fundidos while you mull over your drink options, we had the the “complicado” with artichokes, chorizo and poblano peppers and are still thinking about it. Pro-tip, order an extra side of tortillas because they are made in-house and are heavenly. Speaking of tortillas, you must order tacos, seriously you must, they are all delicious. Don’t be shy to ask the bartender to help you find the perfect cocktail for your mood, and turns out that chances are good that you will actually have Boxwill himself behind the stick.
Alta Calidad will be open for dinner Monday through Thursday from 5pm-11pm, Fridays and Saturdays from 5pm-midnight, and Sundays from 5pm-10:30pm. Weekend brunch is from 10:30am-3pm, and lunch is Monday through Friday from 11am-3pm starting March 20.
As for what to try at Alta Calidad, we caught up with Chef Akhtra and Boxwill to get their picks.
Chef Akhtar’s recommendations
What is your favorite cocktail on the menu?
The El Jardin is a tremendous drink! I have never been crazy about cocktails that are super spicy. This offers a good balance between a traditional and a spicy margarita. The poblano juice adds a great vegetable flavor to the drink and some level of spice, but nothing too strong. The roasted chapulinas (grasshoppers) offer a great earthy element to the cocktail, which adds great balance. I tell myself I am drinking a green juice with good tequila!”
What brunch dish do you recommend to anyone who may have overindulged aka a hungover guest?
Steak & Eggs Sandwich by far! It’s got this crispy cheese chicharrone, charred steak, homemade chorizo and serrano peppers. The chewy soft bread is totally key. Add an egg and it’s bound to cure any severity of hangover or “crudo.” Checks all the boxes!
Recs from Beverage Director David Boxwill:
Fresh-pressed juices are a welcome labor of love. Tell us about them.
We juice our produce daily. We have our standard citrus and mezo staples, LIMES, LIMES, LIMES, some veggie standards (PEPPERS, PEPPERS, PEPPERS) and then whatever weekly seasonal produce that piques our interest at the farmers market.
Your housemade Horchata is a little cup of heaven, and you give one ‘on-the-house’ to each guest!
Our Horchata incorporates toasted coconut and golden raisins, giving this classic a rich and caramelized texture/essence. It is fantastic. My secret is a Gary Regan-esque technique. Just add a little pinkie.
Understand that the food came first and you crafted the cocktails to complement the Akhtar’s offerings…but how does the cocktail menu represent your personality?
Well, I read through Chef Akhtar’s menu and food descriptions and let my taste buds do the rest. Certain flavor profiles sometimes scream out to partner with others. As for our cocktail list, I wanted to obviously showcase some Agave spirits and cocktails, like the Carmen, El Jardin, and the Coyote Wishes, but also, I did not want to pigeon hole our cocktails and creative energy to one specific genre of drinks. One thing the list has is it’s ability to give you options, let you be you. That’s why I am me.
For those who may not yet be familiar with your work, can you tell us a little bit about your bar experience?
I have been in the beverage side of the industry for some time. I have helmed bars in New York and Miami over the years, at locations such as the SoHo House, Zuma, American Cut Tribeca, and host of others. I spent time championing Glenfiddich and Balvenie Scotches, and even had a chance to work with and train some of the best bartenders in China in preparation for Diageo’s World Class Competition. The beverage industry is so dynamic, that I have had the privilege and opportunity to make drinks, meet the craziest of people, place myself in inexplicable conversations and situations, which keeps life fresh, new, and utterly bananas! Still after all these years the industry, it is that itch I can’t seem to scratch.
Alta Calidad details
552 Vanderbilt Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11238, 718-622-1111, altacalidadbk.com, @altacalidabk