The end of Passover can only mean one thing; an unusually absurd craving for anything and everything created with flour. Pasta, breads, cookies, cupcakes. You name it, I want it. So when my Mom suggested we celebrate the end of the holiday in the city, Italian food immediately came to mind. Fresh homemade pastas, flaky pieces of bread, the forbidden foods finally being consumed for the first time in eight days.
I had fallen in love with Gabe Thompson’s L’Artusi, a while back, an was excited for the opportunity to experience one of his other restaurants, Dell’Anima. The concept is very similar, with Italian specialties with a not-so-classic twist on traditional dishes. Dell’anima is a much smaller, more intimate restaurant, unlike the multilevel L’Artusi. It seemed to fill all of our needs to a completely carb heavy meal in an enjoyable, intimate environment.
I met my Mom for an early, 5:30pm meal, in the West Village. We were originally directed to the adjacent bar, also owned by the restaurant, to wait for our spot to open up. Just when the clock struck our reserved dining time, we had our choice of seating in the empty restaurant. I requested the move from the original table, which had my back against a dark wooden wall, separating the open kitchen top from the rest of the dining room. Unfortunately, I made the poor decision of sitting near the bar, where the slightly unprofessional staff gathered and loudly discussed their entire life stories without acknowledging about the patrons sitting less then a foot away.
Location aside, we started off with a glass of wine, tasting the Chianti first, which was a little more bitter then we were used to. I am always pleased when a restaurant allows for you to taste the wine you ordered first, on the off chance it does not satisfy your needs. This was one of those times, which lead me to believe the wine had gone slightly bad from being opened over night. We eventually settled on the perfect glass for each of us, after avoiding the recommendation from the waitress for the overly priced $18 glass of wine.
Next we turned to the entire point of our visit, the food. We opted to start with the bruschette portion of the menu, which was unlike the usual preparation many associate with the word. Instead, individual bowls of each selected spread are placed adjacent to a basket of warm, slightly charred bread, allowing for you to build your own dish.
The bruschettas are eclectic in taste, and style, with each topping radically different then the next. The variations change based on the season, making sure you try something appropriate for the time of the year. The octopus was particularly phenomenal, with a lovely subtle fishiness and a mellow kick of heat coming through at the end. I couldn’t figure out the ability to completely transformation of octopus into this light, red paste while still maintaining it’s unique texture. The lily confit, which was marinated shallots and garlic with a little bit of chile, was sweet, rich and spicy all at once. It’s this kind of simple combination of ingredients prepared so artfully that tends to be the most exciting dish. On the other hand, the avocado bruschetta seemed to lack the most excitement. It seemed like a poorly pureed version of guacamole, making it relatively bland. The success of two out of three dishes left me satisfied, while secretly wishing we had ordered one of the other two toppings on the list that would have been significantly better then the avocado.
For our next dish, we ordered the charred octopus, which is probably the most hyped about dish at Dell’Anima, and for a very good reason.
Perfectly tender, gently charred octopus, sits on a bed of addictive beans mixed with chorizo and wilted radicchio. The smokiness of the octopus, with a crispy exterior and a silky interior is absolutely phenomenal. I only wish that there was more of it. The saving grace of the dish was the fact that all components were equally delicious. My mom, who tends to dislike beans in any context, helped me to devour this dish. The addition of acidity allow for the beans, radicchio and chorizo give the illusion of being surprisingly light.
You needed to be wary about the kitchen’s heavy handedness when it comes to salt. My mom and I both love salt, but this dish was salty to a fault. You really don’t feel the effects of the heavy handed seasoning until the dish is halfway done, and you realize that both your glass of wine and water are completely empty. The combination of the salty chorizo, along with traditional seasoning, overwhelm the senses, leaving the lingering salty taste heading into the next course of the meal.
My mom has a weakness for Pasta Bolognese, so when a version of her favorite meat sauce graced the menu, we knew that this was our destined pasta dish of choice.
Homemade pasta has a wonderful, al-dente bite to it, separating it from the boxed kind you can buy at any grocery store. The pasta here is a reason people come back to Gabe Thompson’s restaurants, with each Primi dish prepared with such time and care, giving meaning to the idea that less is more. The bolognese was delicious, with the thick pieces of tagliatelle soaking up the flavors of the meaty sauce. The sauce was a little bit lighter then traditional versions of the sauce, leaving some richness to be desired. And once again, this dish was slightly heavy handed on the salt.
The carb on carb on carb meal that we ordered worked perfectly for our post-Passover craving, but on a normal occasion, this meal would have left me somewhat dis-satisfied and overly full. It just didn’t seem to round out a full meal, leaving much to be desired. The lacking presence of any fresh vegetables on the menu was slightly daunting. High priced salads and two simple sides seemed to be the only breath of ‘fresh’ air from the heavy handed use of proteins, breads and cheese.
Overall, the individual dishes brought something unique and flavorful to the table, but the heavy handed use of salt and high-priced dishes could be a turn-off from recommending Dell’Anima. Certain dishes, mainly the Charred Octopus were definitely memorable, but unfortunately, too many flaws might keep this little West Village restaurant as a post-Passover, crab-craving spot only.
Dell’Anima – 38 8th Avenue – New York, NY
Location: West Village, NY
Perfect For: First Dates, Special Occasions, Girls’ Night Out, Date Night
Reservations: Recommended via OpenTable
Favorite Dishes: Charred Octopus, Bruscette (Lily Confit, Octopus)