The full name of this establishment is "Heidi's House by the Side of the Road." As the name promises, the tapas restaurant on the Upper East Side is homelike, with a painting of a nude woman jauntily shoved into the bathroom, frayed cloth napkins, and a quote from Robert Frost written on the wall. Jazz plays on the stereo and an old version of Battleship leans against the bar. Doesn't sound like your house? Well, maybe a beloved aunt's then. While the atmosphere might be a bit ragtag, the food is decidedly not, and it's worth waiting for.
Each dish gets prepared lovingly, one at a time. There's nothing fast here. Instead, "Chef Cipriano [Pita] waves his magic wand and creates devine [sic] food," says the menu, which is subdivided into snacks, salads, dishes, and desserts.
We started with bruschetta ($11): four mounds of bread topped with mozzarella, barely broiled, and served with a bright salad of tomatoes and chopped onions. The bread comes from Orwasher's, the hundred-something-year-old bakery next door, and meat comes from Ottomanelli's, a few blocks away—augmenting Heidi's very neighborhoody feel.
Next we tried garlic shrimp ($16), a special of the evening. Sure, we're as excited about the return of Game of Thrones as the next uber-fan, but something about this ceramic cauldron of bubbling oil put us in mind of the Middle Ages. We dipped our fork into the depths and pulled out slivers of garlic, sprigs of rosemary, flakes of thyme, and peppery shrimp. Not even Tyrion Lannister could find something to complain about here.
Finally, we got the macaroni and cheese ($13) with bacon ($6). The spiral pasta was gluten-free and homemade, the bacon from "properly fed piggies," according to the menu, the whole dish a cheesy, carb-y overload. We won't be able to eat this comforting mass again until November: its heartiness belongs to another time, closer to when winter is coming. (Sorry, couldn't resist.)
As we ate, the room filled up—not a hard feat to accomplish with just four tables and 12 seats at the bar. On the other hand, it was 6 PM on a Wednesday, not exactly prime time. If you go, go early. Be prepared to sit among regulars and to wait while the servers go through the precise merits of the wine list with anyone who asks. Be prepared to overhear conversations about and passages from 50 Shades of Grey. (The rumors are apparently true: this is the hottest novel around.) With its itty-bitty charm and straightforward cooking, Heidi's House is best for: a date who makes you feel at home.