American Madness

Intelligent Criticism in the Service of a Better Nation




Dinner with American Madness: Dell’Anima

Posted by Josh Friedlander | 20 Comments

  Dell’Anima
38 8th Avenue
New York, NY 10014
GM: Joe Campanale
Chef: Gabriel Thompson
212-366-6633
 

Dell’Anima (literally, “from the soul”) is a gastronomic must-do. It is certainly among the top 10 meals I’ve had in the past few years.

As ardent readers will remember, back when we reviewed Babbo, we broke the news that sommelier Joe Campanale and friends would be launching a new Italian restaurant. We now enhance that scoop with another: a first look at Dell’Anima, certainly now one of Manhattan’s best Italian restaurants. Also, one of the most filling. Also, one of the few places where each seamless, hand-blown piece of glassware is costlier than your flatscreen tv.

Don’t ask me what we drank. It was excellent. My dining companions — master Wall Streeter Anthony Ritossa and his elegant wife Sandra, and James Beard award-winning chef, hotelier and executive recruiter Deborah — agreed that the food and drink at Dell’Anima were exceptional. I can hardly doubt you won’t concur. Any criticisms I could state would be petty: too much food if one gets all five courses, no foot massages at the tables, the servers were too nice to work at Le Bernadin….

It is worth going with several people, so that everything can be sampled.

Appetizers:
Definitely get the outrageous bruschetta platter. My favorite item: a mashed potato-like dish resembling what the French term Brandade de Morue but made with monkfish instead of cod. Also, try the onions that are tortured (or put in stress positions, as the Bush administration might say) to reveal all their flavors.

Pastas
The squid-ink fettuccine is the best version of this dish I have ever had, and I’ve been searching. I had previously considered the versions at Babbo and Novita the best, but for the first time I could actually taste the ocean in the dish.

The tagliatelle was very very good, but extremely heavy. One dish is enough for two people, and there’s no good reason to also order a main course if you get it. Unless, of course, you are, like myself, a glutton.

The risotto was a revelation. Typically, the heaviest dish on a menu, it was light and boasted a variety of flavors. It did not sink to the pit of the stomach and absorb one’s will to live (an unpleasant sensation and not to be confused with the apocalyptic desire to evaporate at a moment of extreme bliss described at the entre to this post).

Mains
We tried each of the four main dishes on offer. They included chicken, which I ordered because I wanted to get everything, but which I usually avoid on the theory that the chicken dish is there for the unadventurous and is usually the least accomplished item on the menu. But this was an an altogether worthy item and held its own against the tender lamb shoulder with polenta.

Full disclosure: the food and drink were gratis, but I would have crapped on the restaurant had the food been lousy. You’ll just have to take my word on this. We did, of course, leave an excellent tip. The service was pretty much perfect. Our waitress was one of those beautiful people who sings gorgeous ballads on Myspace and is generally much cooler than you are. When faced with the average Manhattan waitress, who is absurdly likely to be an Ivy League-educated polymath with the balls to pursue a risky career in music, theater or art, I am reminded of Orwell’s ruminations on class gleaned from his stint working in a Parisian Hotel and restaurant (from Down and Out in Paris and London):

The mass of the rich and the poor are differentiated by their incomes and nothing else, and the average millionaire is only the average dishwasher dressed in a new suit. Change places, and handy dandy, which is the justice, which is the thief?

This is more true of our city, in which middle class salaries have been reduced to pauper’s pay.

Most of us are terribly risk averse. It was humbling for me to be in this restaurant and to meet its founders and feel the intensity of their nervousness. Veteran reviewers can be objective about new restaurants, but, as a novice, it is difficult for me not to root for Dell’Anima’s founders and employees, whose personal economics are on the line and who are striving for something more than a sales quota or a story deadline.

Whatever success the chef has contemplated, when I took that bite of fettuccine and sat back to ponder blissful oblivion, my next sensical thought was that he had achieved it.
Dell'Anima in New York

Comments

20 Responses to “Dinner with American Madness: Dell’Anima”

  1. anon
    October 24th, 2007 @

    How can you review a restaurant that hasn’t even opened yet? One would think that the food drink and service at a preview dinner would reflect extra effort that is not likely to be present once the restaurant actually opens.

  2. tribecaboy
    October 25th, 2007 @

    are you an owner/shareholder or blowing the ownershareholder? This place has been open 1 day!!

  3. Josh
    October 25th, 2007 @

    anon:

    Good point, but I stand by the review. I’ll go back and if there’s a big discrepancy, I will be sure to write a followup.

    I will say this: the restaurant was open in every sense except who got to eat there (friends and family versus the entire public). It was not open to reviewers, so the only effort to provide amazing service would have been motivated by pride, not by self-interest. I begged permission to even write this review. They didn’t expect me to when I was invited.

    The service was good, but I wouldn’t say they were fawning all over us. The food is the same food they are planning to serve to everyone. There were no special dishes only for that night. Actually, a couple of dishes were no longer available, because they were snatched up too soon. In practice, the restaurant will have to make sure it has sufficient supplies on hand. Mostly, Dell’Anima wanted feedback on ways to improve. Since we thought the meal was nearly perfect, we had very little to add.

  4. Josh
    October 25th, 2007 @

    tribecaboy:

    I blew one of the owners, yes.

    Well, in a matter of speaking. I met co-owner Joe Campanale when he was our sommelier at Babbo and begged him to invite me to the opening. I’m not certain whether that rises to the Clintonian definition of sex. Depends on what your definition of “is” is.

  5. Jason
    October 25th, 2007 @

    At a restaurant company I worked for, new store openings were always preceded by two days prior to the official opening known as “Friends and Family” during which time only invited guests of the staff may eat at the new restaurant. It functions as a kind of test run for the kitchen and wait staff working in a new location. So in that case, service and food quality are actually likely to be worse than several weeks into the opening when the staff will have had more practice.

  6. foodie24
    October 26th, 2007 @

    was there last nite, you should shame yourself for your comments. the food was fresh,obviously since they just opened. to start, the bruschetta was an ordinary spread it yourself dish. the octopus was tough and flavorless. the pasta …you must be kidding…i know that when i make risotto it takes 1/2 of an hour of love and patience. not boiled arborio preped in 5 min. i guess i am an old fashioned italian who knows food and how it should be made. but to put this on you list of 10 best…you must be blowing someone.

  7. Josh
    October 26th, 2007 @

    foodie24:

    I swear I got nothing out of being so positive about the restaurant. I fear, based on what you describe, that the restaurant could be experiencing some opening hiccups. I can only relay what I experienced, which was amazing.

    Of course, it’s possible we have radically different tastes. Did you like the pasta at Babbo? If you didn’t, maybe we’re just different. I’d be interested to know which italian places you rank highly. Seriously…I don’t want to be missing anything and can always expand my frame of reference.

  8. foodie24
    October 27th, 2007 @

    first of all being a real italian helps understanding the basis of what the food is all about. no offense. but understand that there are so many places that are under the radar which are absolutely amazing italian restaurants.also your radical taste doesnt fly. the dishes are supposed to be made and adhere to strict authentic preperation. having boiled arborio rice sitting around is not my idea of how risotto is made. any way here are some real italian restaurants for you to try. il mulino nyc. domenico’s in long island. tiro a segno rifle club. manducatis in long island city. little frankies in the east villiage.ennio and michael in the villiage..so give them a shot ..most have withstood time here in ny….then we can talk about pizza!!!!

  9. Jason
    October 27th, 2007 @

    I’ve got to tell you, foodie, I’ve had Italian food in New York, Chicago, Boston, Washington, Rome, Florence and the Amalfi Coast. But I have to say that nothing compares to the way the Spanish do Italian food. Here in Spain they specialize in what’s called Tomate Frito which you can buy in a can or box. It’s a pre-prepared tomato sauce made with just tomatoes and olive oil. It has a perfectly bland taste that really allows the flavor of the pasta to shine through.

    Some people find it necessary to add other ingredients to this canned miracle. I don’t. I just microwave it to warm it up and pour it all over the pasta that I buy for 25 cents per kilo.

    So don’t tell me only Italians know Italian food!

  10. Your an ass
    October 29th, 2007 @

    Foodie 24, you are about as bad as it gets. You have nothing better to do than complain. You are an Italian idiot. I feel sorry for you.

  11. foodie24
    October 30th, 2007 @

    you are the ass..the food was mediocre at best. and yes when i drop 200.00 for 2 at this place and it doesnt deliver…fuck yes i am going to complain…you douche bag.

  12. Josh
    October 31st, 2007 @

    Goodness! Language, people!

    We run a clean blog here.

  13. Josh
    October 31st, 2007 @

    Foodie24:

    Because I really liked the restaurant’s preparation of the risotto, I did some digging into why it was so drastically different from the type of risotto one normally finds in Italian places.

    Apparently there are several different types of risotto. What Dell’Anima makes is Risotto Alla Pilota, which is made with Carnaroli rice (as opposed to Arborio). This dish is traditionally (and by that, I mean for at least the last 100 years in Italy, and probably a lot longer) cooked in oil (like Italian fried rice) and for a very short period of time. By contrast, what New York restaurants have tended to favor is the Arborio variety, which is stirred from 18 to 30 minutes (on the high end) and gets the kind of texture with which most of us are more familiar (and which tends to fill me up rather quickly).

    Here’s one article I found in the San Francisco Chronicle that discussed a bit of the distinction. So, both types are “authentically” Italian (a loaded term to be sure) in that both have a long history of being Italian dishes eaten by Italian people in Italy. So, while the Risotto may disappoint those more familiar with the Arborio variety, it must be judged on its own merits. Just because it has been cooked quickly doesn’t make it a lazy dish.

    One key point from the article I’ve linked to above:

    In fact, Vialone Nano has almost as much amylose as Carnaroli and measures even lower on the stickiness charts. It is every Venetian chef’s choice for risotto, probably because it is widely grown in that area but also, chefs say, because it produces the desirable all’onda (wavy) texture. When a cook showily tosses the finished risotto in the saucepan with a flip of the wrist, it rises up and breaks like a wave. Arborio and Baldo have significantly less amylose. Consequently, they absorb less liquid, take longer to cook and tend to produce a somewhat starchier, stickier risotto, although the difference may be noticeable only to those who make risotto frequently.

    Ah, so amylose is the culprit! That’s why arborio risotta always makes me feel like such a porker (more water absorbed) while the Dell’Anima version felt so light.

  14. foodie24
    November 1st, 2007 @

    fair enough, i am from the south,so that is news to me. but digging around the last owner who was there was very well respected in his knowlegde of food, and supposedly their bolognese was the best in the city.

  15. chairman chow
    November 4th, 2007 @

    Foodie24,
    How does “being a real italian” help you to understand the “basis of what the food is all about” exactly? Following your logic, every single American person understands what American food is all about. New Yorkers are now experts on BBQ and Cajun cuisine I suppose. That’s completely unreasonable, and unrealistic.

    One’s understanding of food (of anything) comes from one’s own personal experiences and how they process them. Just because you’re Italian, doesn’t make you a fountain of knowledge on Italian food – sorry. I mean, what if you grew up eating your mama’s cooking and your mama was a terrible cook? Of course that’s subjective, but hopefully you get the point. Simply because one comes from a certain country does NOT make that person an expert on that country’s food, culture, etc.

    All that said, I’m interested in trying Dell’Anima. Thanks.

  16. the other italian
    November 14th, 2007 @

    foodie, really. i am Italian too, and i have seldom had a nice meal in this country. dell’anima certainly makes the cut.

  17. and yet another Italian
    November 19th, 2007 @

    My partner and I loved our dinner here (and I do plan on returning, often). The delicious food brings back warm memories of the wonderful year I lived in Italy. The wine selection is very impressive – don’t forget to ask the owner (Joe) to pair your wine.

  18. Carlo
    November 21st, 2007 @

    So far I have had the delightful tuna, the buttery tagiatelle bolognese and the fettucine squid-ink in a light calamari sauce. The buckwheat pasta, which had too much garlic, has been the only misstep I have experienced in four visits. Looking forward to try the risotto. The service is extremely good as are the wine choices. It gets a bit too hot near the open kitchen but the aromas are great to take in. The restauant is very loud as its packed now. It’s a charming little spot. The former restaurant in that space was not.

  19. American Madness » Blog Archive » AM at Dinner: The Modern
    January 10th, 2008 @

    [...] was seamless (and possibly handmade). The nicest stemware anywhere I’ve been lately is at Dell’Anima, but The Modern is doing better than OK. The silverware was, as expected, modernist, but not [...]

  20. American Madness » Blog Archive » Dell’Anima opens for brunch
    April 14th, 2008 @

    [...] is the news I’ve been waiting for since I first sampled the exquisite [...]

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