BIG APPETITES IN LITTLE ITALY

                March 7, 2014

THE HUNGER JAMES OFFICIAL RATING:

When people think of New York, they usually think of two things: the skyscrapers and Jay-Z. And tourism. And crime. And homeless people. And streets that smell like urine. And…

 

Ok, I am getting off topic.

 

Usually after tall buildings and mediocre rappers, New York is most famous for its (drum roll please) Food!

I have lived in New York City for almost three years, and even though I have a very important blog about food, I really do not take in everything this city has to offer in the culinary department. I mean, sure, I have gone to the Outback Steakhouse on 23rd/6th multiple times, but other than that, I don’t really go anywhere fun, new, or exciting.

 

So, when my friend asked me to go to dinner last Friday night, I had only one request: that we venture out of our comfort zones and try someplace new (And if she could unlock my level on Candy Crush).

 

She, too, was very into the idea that we go to an area of New York that we barely frequent, try a restaurant we had never been before, and have a fantastic Friday night.

 

And we did!

 

When we first were trying to figure out where to go, convenience and location was key. We didn’t want to have to transfer trains or (dare I say it) go to Brooklyn, so we chose a location that was easy for the both of us to commute to from our offices: Little Italy.

 

I’m just going to say it – I absolutely LOVE Little Italy. I think it is cute, and fun, and charming. Plus, I love mozzarella sticks. It’s one of the areas of the city that I always say I want to go to, but never actually make it past 23rd street (Damn you, Outback!) I have only been to Little Italy twice since living here, and both times it was for the San Gennaro festival – which is an awesome street party in September. If you haven’t gone, make that a top priority this year! You will not be upset or go home hungry.

 

Anyways, I did some research and found a few great little places to eat dinner. When we finally decided on one, I went ahead and made a reservation, because I wasn’t sure if it would be crowded. And I’m neurotic. They gladly accepted my reservation and we were all set to eat lots of pasta and drink even more wine!

 

The restaurant we selected (thanks to great reviews on Yelp!) is called Da Nico’s and is located in the heart of Little Italy on Mulberry Street. We arrived promptly for our reservation and were seated right away in the back dining room. When we first looked around, it was pretty empty, so I felt like a fool for making a reservation and calling twice to confirm, but  30 minutes later, the dining room filled up and it became a really fun spot, and for once, we were the quiet table.

 

After hearing the eight or nine specials of the evening, our waiter asked us if we had any questions, to which we both replied in unison, “Wine.”

 

We were handed a menu larger than the food one which had pages and pages and pages of wines available by the bottle. Not seeing anything familiar from the bodega down the street, I scanned the right side of the menu and found the cheapest bottle of Pinot Noir.

 

Once the bottle was open, we decided to try the Buffalo Mozzarella and Tomato Caprese salad for our starter. Before we had a second to take a sip of our wine, our appetizer was magically sitting on our table, looking so beautiful and delicious.

 

“Holy Crap!” I said. “That was fast! How the hell did they do that?”

 

“Well,” my friend Laura said, “it’s just cheese and tomatoes. That probably takes only a minute to put together.”

I nodded in agreement, but still thought it was extremely quick. While eating our caprese, we perused the menu for our entree. I was prepared and knew before I even left my office what I was having for dinner.

 

Now, I am definitely not that person who looks up the menu online and decides what to have before going to the restaurant (ahem, Dad…) but when we decided on Italian food, I KNEW I needed to have my all-time favorite Italian dish: Veal Parmigiana.

 

I know, boring, right? I guess…but ever since I was a kid (yes, I was a very fancy five year old eating veal cutlets for dinner) it has always been my favorite meal. Whenever I would get straight B’s or  get picked on at the school playground, this was my go-to meal! So, the main reason why I picked this restaurant is because they had veal parmigiana – and a high Yelp rating.

 

Laura, on the other hand, was torn between two options. One, the tilapia special served with Broccoli. The other, Gnocchi served in a creamy pesto sauce. When she looked at me, unsure of what to order, I confidently said, “When in Rome…”

 

Our waiter cleared our plates, took our dinner order and refilled our wine glasses. We clinked them and took a sip, ready to start our conversation of stories. Before I could even get out my very first question, I had a huge veal cutlet, topped with mozzarella and parmesan cheeses with a side of spaghetti sitting right in front of me.

“HOW?!” I screamed. “How many cooks are in that kitchen?! And are they documented?”

 

He assured me that there were only three chefs working that evening and they were all documented, “but don’t ask me about the dishwashers” he said and walked away quickly.

 

It didn’t take much for us to dive in, eat our dinner, and forget our entire conversation. The veal was amazing. Was it the best I’ve ever had? Not even. Was it the worst? Definitely not. Was it exactly like a meal in Italy? I have no idea – never been. But I was starving and it satiated my hunger and craving for one of my favorite meals. And no, I didn’t have a chance to take a picture due to the rapid-pace of the food delivery and growling in my stomach.

 

If it was any surprise to you, Laura decided to go with the Gnocchi in the pesto cream sauce and save the tilapia for another night. After she ate half of her plate, she deemed herself too full to finish. Luckily, where I lack in hair or self-confidence, I make up for it with my appetite and finished her meal as well.

 

The Gnocchi was the best I have ever had. Sure, I have only had it one other time at an Olive Garden in Kissimmee, Florida, so I wasn’t too shocked that I preferred this one better.

 

After dinner, we drank the remaining ounce of wine and both leaned back in our chair, 100% satisfied. When asked if we wanted dessert we both looked at each other, contemplating this very important decision. In the end, though, we decided against dessert and that we would fill that void with vodka – lots of vodka.

 

When the waiter brought us our check, he also brought a plate of fresh zeppoli’s to the table – on the house – because we were his favorite table, but Laura thinks it’s because she’s pretty, so let’s just go with that.

Da Nico’s was great! Was it a little cheesy? (pun-inteded) Yes. But that’s the appeal of Little Italy. You don’t go there for a 5 cheezit dinner. You go there for the atmosphere, the Frank Sinatra Pandora station, and the cannoli’s. Our waiter, who was straight off the boat (from Staten Island, not Italy), was so entertaining and so great to us and truly made the dining experience what it was.