After hearing many rave reviews, Ari and I decided to go to Dell'Anima in the West Village to celebrate the two year anniversario. I had been here once before to try their apertivo, a lovely Italian tradition in which the price of a drink also buys you free appetizers at the bar. I didn't take advantage of it nearly enough when I was living in Bologna, but luckily New York has a few places with the same tradtion. Dell'Anima offers apertivo from five to seven Friday through Sunday, and at the time I went, they had a lovely salad with a light, acidic vinaigrette and a frittata. Surprisingly, the salad stuck in my mind more than the frittata, which I remember being rather ordinary and room-temperature. The drinks however, were excellent, especially if you are a fan of Aperol, the orange-rhubarb flavored Italian spirit, as I am.
In any case, we had heard fabulous things about the pasta and I had been wanting to try their dinner offerings for a while. Of course, at eight fifteen on a Monday night, the place was packed. Such is New York. We didn't have to wait long for our table, but unfortunately it was sandwiched in the very back corner between the wall and another table. It was actually easier to hear the guys next to us talking than my own voice. Next time, I think I will sit at the pasta bar and be able to see the dining room. However, our server was very affable and I decided to start off with a white lambrusco. I was very fond of lambrusco, the lightly sparkling red wine, while in Bologna, but in the States it is much harder to come by the good stuff. The white however, was like a slightly sweeter prosecco, not quite as dry and just slightly effervescent.
We began with the five types of bruschetta and the quail noci e bacche. The bruschetta came wih a basket of toasted bread and ricotta, lily confit, cannellini bean purée with lemon and aleppo, rapini pesto, and octopus panissa with lemon. Each topping came in little bowls so that you could mix and match or put on as much as you liked. My personal favorites were the octopus and the cannellini beans. The finely-chopped octopus was perfectly seasoned, and had little bits of lemon and spices mixed in. The cannellini purée was slightly smoky and spicy, and was really delicious with the lily confit on top. I thought that the confit was just a bit oily, but had a nice mellow flavor, and neither the onions or the garlic were too overpowering. The rictotta was very creamy, albeit a bit bland, but it complimented the other toppings well. The rapini pesto was a bit bitter for my taste, but I did like it together with the ricotta. We then had the quail with frisée, dried cranberries, and pistachios, which was quite good although I might have liked something a bit lighter after all that bread. I hadn't really tried quail beforehand, and this had a nice, interesting flavor which was set off well by the sweetness of the cranberries and teh acidity of the sherry vinaigrette.
We both then decided that the seafood pastas sounded too good to pass up, even though much of what I have read about Dell'Anima praised their fearlessness of offal. I ordered spaghetti with scallops, sea urchin, chives, and parmigiano reggiano. Ari chose the garganelli neri with rock shrimp, sepia, scallops, tomato and octopus reduction. Mine was divine, if only slighltly fishy. The sauce was lovely, buttery and light and it set off the creamy scallops very well. Ari's was also very good; the seafood wasn't overcooked and the octopus reduction was delicious with the tomato sauce, although I thought that the pasta itself was just slightly tough. We also ordered a side of polenta, which was divine. Creamy, cheesy, and not overseasoned, it probably would have been a better accompaniment to the venison loin, but was delicious nonetheless.
For dessert we ordered the almond cake with caramel sauce and sea-salt ice cream, which I think was my favorite part of the meal. Of course, I have an incurable sweet tooth, but the almond cake was really nice and not overly cloying. The sea salt ice cream was a perfect accompaniment to the sweetness of the caramel, and had a reall interesting flavor on its own as well.
In conclusion, I would reccommend avoiding the crowded tables altogether and going for the pasta bar where you can watch all of the action. Next time, I would like to try the more carnivorous offerings, including a venison tartar which sounds wonderful. On the whole I was quite satisfied with the food, service, and wine selection. It is certainly not a place to go if you are trying to have a real conversation, but hopefully in the summer they will have some tables outside. Overall, Dell'Anima is a great place to enjoy some people watching, a glass of wine, and some serious pasta.