I just had a very lovely dinner at Da Andrea, a small un-pretentious Northern Italian restaurant in Greenwich Village, and thought I'd share some thoughts...
They do not take reservations for parties under 6, nor do they have a wait list. The way it seems to work is that the host takes notice of the crowds of people outside, assesses how many people are in each group, and directs them to appropriate tables as they become available. This is all done in a very friendly and civlized way - due to the restaurant's local popularity, what ensues is something like organized chaos.
The wait was about 20 minutes for an outdoor table, which was what we wanted. To me, few things are better than New York City al fresco dining in the summer. I did take a peek inside, and found the space to be very cozy and bustly, with exposed beams. Rather charming, if not a bit loud. But back to the outside.
Shortly after being seated and poured water from a ceramic pitcher, our attentive and personable server came out to take our orders. We weren't sure what we wanted yet, so we started with a carafe of their house red, which wasn't great but decent and very reasonably priced, and perused the menus.
There were a lot of things that jumped out at me, most notably the reasonable prices tacked next to the descriptions (the average entree was about $14): braised portabello with polenta, rosemary and gorgonzola; warm octopus salad with potatoes, olives & capers; squid ink tagliolini with clams; homemade gnocci with gorgonzola and arugula. Not to mention all the dishes listed in the second course: hangar steak with potato cake; salmon and artichokes; and an appealing lamb shank.
We ended up starting with the grilled calamari, and the grilled vegetable and goat cheese tower. At one point we were considering the fabulous-looking parma prosciutto with made-to-order flat buns (isn’t that an oxymoron?), but our waitress pointed out that if we were going to be ordering pasta, it might be too much of a carb overload. Normally I would scoff at such things, but I was on my second piece of buttery focaccia when she said it and I realized the lady did have a point.
The appetizers were delicious. The calamari had a perfect char to it, had excellent consistency, and was served with a light Mediterranean salad. The grilled vegetable and goat cheese tower was also great – thick grilled tomatoes, zucchini, onions and…uh…some other things, with several layers of warm, melty goat cheese in between. Oh – and a very cute sprig of rosemary peeking out of the top.
I originally planned on being "good" and ordering the salmon, but as soon as my friend (who dines here regularly) told me they made their own pastas, I went with the homemade pappardelle with sweet sausage ragout and truffle oil essence. I’m not sure what the “essence” thing was all about – I mean, does it have truffle oil on it or not? – but yes, it was as delicious as it sounds.
The pappardelle was slightly chewy in that fresh-pasta sort of way, and to my delight, slightly al dente. It was nice to have my pasta cooked al dente without my having to ask – which I never do, because I feel slightly pretentious doing it.
The sauce was great – lots of sausage, lots of “essence” of truffle. Still don’t know what it means, but say what you want about how overly-used and overly-priced truffles and their oil are -- their flavor really does make a difference. Even if it's a subtle one.
There were other pasta dishes that caught my eye, but chances are if I return here (and I hope to), I’ll have to order the pappardelle again. I don’t write here as often as I like but when a dish stays in my mind like this one, I can’t help but take some time out of my day to give mention to it.
Da Andrea is the type of spot I hope survives this ever-changing and increasingly expensive city of New York. It was a lovely meal and overall evening.