Please note that the meal was complimentary. However, the opinions expressed in my blog are 100% my own!
Last Wednesday, I got invited to a press dinner at Da Marcella Taverna in Greewich Village. When I saw the name, it sounded familiar and when I saw it, I realized that I passed so many times in front of it. Why didn't I stop before? Simply because I mostly passed at lunch time and they only serve dinner.
It is a small place, seating just 42 people between the bar or in the main dinning room that has either individual or communal tables.
Know that this place is an outpost of Da Marcella located across from the Rockefeller center.
I got to meet with the founder and owner of the restaurant, Manuel Moreno and had a quick chat with him at the end of the dinner.
Manuel and his parents have an interesting past. His father was born in Spain and left for Italy to escape the infamous dictatorship of Franco. There, he opened a bakery, where Manuel's mother (Marcella) used to shop. And you can guess what happened next. They got married, had children, and, when Manuel was three years old, they moved back to Spain. Years passed. Manuel became a graphic artist, before doing a 180 and becoming a baker (The Bakery of NY in Long Island City) and a restaurateur. In fact, the bread and desserts we tried came from his bakery.
When I told Manuel that his restaurant had a neighborhood feel, he explained to me that it is exactly what he wanted to create in his restaurant. As he explained, the term taverna is common in Spain, Greece and Italy, although now in Italy, the word Osteria or Trattoria are more used. So the taverna or tavern was a place where people could go and eat some food that would cost them just a little more than if they were cooking it themselves. Some sort of kitchen of the neighborhood. Keeping the same spirit at Da Marcella is important to Manuel and that is true that the prices are fairly reasonable ($10 pasta dishes: that is pretty good).
The menu, crafted by Manuel and Executive Chef Francesco Mueses, offers dishes that are for the most part family recipes.
So let see what we ate! The first appetizer was grilled marinated Spanish octopus, served with caper berries, sun dried tomatoes and rughetta.
The octopus was very tender thanks to their cooking process: they marinate it for three days (in vinegar, peppers, salt...), then will cook it for an hour in the oven, with some marinate. Well it worked! Cooking octopus is not that easy, because if not cooked enough, it can be tough.
The second appetizer was the Scottish wild salmon and avocado tartare with Lampedusa capers.
I liked it: well balanced, enough acidity with the capers adding a nice salty and bitter taste.
It was served with some bread soldiers.
These two dishes were served with a light white wine: Vermentino di Sardegna 2012 "La Cala".
After that, we tried the meatballs: Chef Francesco's meatballs "al sugo di Pomodoro".
They were made with veal, pork, Parmesan, milk and bread, as well as rosemary and sage that definitely enhanced the taste. They were very good, soft and not dried at all, serve with a nice tomato sauce.
Then, came the wood fire eggplant "alla parmigiana":
Although I did not really taste the fact that it was cooked under a wood fire, I liked this dish for the simple reason that it was...simple...and let the eggplant shine. Often, eggplant parmesan tastes too much of the breading rather than the eggplant, but not at Da Marcella Taverna.
The meatballs and eggplant were served with a red wine: Cannonau di Sardegna 2011 "Filieri" - Cantina Dorgali, that was fresh, tasty, with a medium intensity.
Then we got to try a pasta dish. It was the tagliatelle artigianali "Setaro" Al ragu'Bolognese classico, Manuel's family recipe.
They import the pasta from Italy, Setaro being the brand. I have never seen such pasta: uncooked, instead of being smooth, they are rough, allowing the pasta sauce to stick to it when cooked. But no worries: it was not rough to my palate and was definitely my favorite of the dinner.
That ragu, that they cook for few hours, was succulent: rustic, not watery with a bold taste. Eating it with a piece of bread would even be fine for me: bring me the pot!!!
It was paired with a red wine: Langhe Nebbiolo 2011 "Elvio Pertinace" from the region of Piemonte.
The last entree was the braised beef short rib "Al Barolo" served with a creamy polenta.
These short ribs were fantastic: they literally fell of the bone. Apparently, they first pan sear it and then cook it for more than two hours in sofrito (garlic, onions, pepper...). Very tasty, I truly appreciated the fact that it was not too fatty. The creamy polenta (the brand used is Berreta) that was served with it was sublime: very creamy, it was not grainy at all and had a slight buttery taste, although, surprisingly, they only use milk.
The short ribs were served with my favorite wine of the evening: a Cabernet montepulciano 2011 "Integolo" -Sada from Toscany.
Of course we could not have left without trying some desserts. First was the panna cotta:
Perfectly set, it definitely had hints of anise and vanilla.
A classic: I always say that you can measure the quality of an Italian restaurant by trying its tiramisu. This one was perfect: creamy, with the right balance of coffee and mascarpone, and perfectly soaked lady fingers.
The ricotta cheesecake.
Another perfect dessert: not dry, not too dense and not too heavy.
So I would pick desserts in this order: tiramisu, cheesecake, panna cotta. They were deliciously paired with a Moscato d'Asti 2011 "Cascina dell Perliche" from Piemonte. I love muscat wine for its sweetness and this one was sparkling.
This was a wonderful evening and the food was delicious, comforting for the most part, definitely representing the concept of neighborhood kitchen that the owner wanted to create. This is clearly a place to know!
Enjoy (I did)!
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And Remember: I Just Want To Eat!