Just when we thought it was getting warmer, we're blasted by snow and brutal cold. Our ears almost fell off when we walked from the subway to the apartment. But we aren't in a huge rush to see the winter disappear just yet. Why? Alta. Walk into Alta, and upon entering the warm, European-feeling bar area, you're hit with the smell of the fireplace, and although the food at Alta is delicious year-round, you can only experience the fireplace in the wintertime. It envelops you, and welcomes you, and even makes you happy that you just came in from the bitter cold.


Winter is also a great excuse to gather friends together for a hearty meal, and Alta offers the perfect solution to a large group dinner: The Whole Shebang. Generally, Alta is a small plate, Mediterranean-style tapas spot, the kind of place where you go with a few friends, share everything, and order a few rounds until you've had your fill, but when you've got a group of six people or more, you can order The Whole Shebang. That's right -- the entire menu. Gothamist had the pleasure of dining with a group of about 15, so we ordered The Whole Shebang times two.

2005_02_food_altasquid.jpgWith the warmth and comfort of the fireplace enveloping us as we sat at the long wood tables upstairs, we ordered a reasonable Spanish wine (from their wonderful wine list) and let the meal begin. Interspersed with our wine and conversation, the food kept coming. And coming. And coming. And just when we thought we were done, there was more. Thankfully, everything came at a leisurely pace, so we could enjoy each one as it came around. We've highlighted some of our favorites, in case you don't have the chance to get the entire menu.

We're huge fans of the simple Marcona almonds, and the bacon wrapped dates, olives and almonds to start. The squid is our absolute favorite on the menu -- Chef Harrison Mosher creates "Taglierini" of calamari, creating a pasta-like feel, but retaining the texture of the squid, mixed with haricots verts and garlic chips.
2005_02_foodaltakefte.jpgThe lamb meatballs with rice, pinenuts, dates and brown butter add a middle eastern touch, and the grilled enormous whole shrimp with sea salt are a picture perfect example of simplicity at its best, allowing the sweet, succulent shrimp to shine.

Ordered as a whole, the Whole Shebang is $310, and individual menu items range from $3 to $15. Stop by Alta before it gets warm so you can experience the fireplace, but stop by anytime for an inventive take on small plate dining.

Alta, 64 W. 10th Street, between Fifth and Sixth Aves. 212-505-7777.