“We believe that great food should be affordably priced and that nobody should get rich feeding thy neighbor” — One of Da Marcella Taverna’s Mission Statements–one that it definitely upholds!
Situated in Manhattan’s West Village, Da Marcella Taverna is a short, scenic walk away from my dear New York University, and an excellent choice for anyone looking to save some money without losing quality or flavor.
According to owner Manuel Moreno, a taverna is supposed to be a local dining space that brings together people in the community for delicious home-cooked meals at affordable prices. Born in Tuscany and raised in Madrid, Mr. Moreno’s serves traditional Italian cuisine with a menu composed of many of his own family’s original recipes.
The restaurant is named for Moreno’s mother, Marcella, who often cooked lavish meals for her friends and neighbors—especially those in need. Mr. Moreno views his mother’s love and what he sees as a general lack of tavernas or other food establishments that inspire a feeling of home in America as his primary motivators for creating Da Marcella.
True to its roots, Da Marcella Taverna’s atmosphere is small and unpretentious yet wholly classy. Large yet close-knit tables, a cozy marble bar, and romantic lighting make for a cozy and communal experience. The night I visited, there was pop music playing over their sound system and an Italian soap opera running on their televisions screens above the bar, both of which highlighted the space as casual and fun. It’s a great place to relax after a long day’s work or go out for a date or meal with friends.
Mr. Moreno does his best to keep prices low, speaking of his restaurant as “humble” rather than a business. Looking at the menu, I was astounded to see that the pasta dishes were all under $15 (with the exception of the specials) while most entrees stayed under $20. I can certainly attest to Mr. Moreno’s generosity as I and my fellow diners were treated to a lavish 12-course meal by executive chef Francesco Mueses.
Out of the three seafood starters, this one was definitely my favorite. Colorful in appearance and flavor, this was easily one of the best seafood salads I’ve ever had and featured an impressive use of octopus. The octopus managed to be crisp yet tender with an array of colorful flavors ranging from charred and savory to fragrant with the addition of the fruits and spices in the salad. Incredibly tasty without being tough or chewy.
These baked clams were just bursting with flavor. Succulent and sweet, (native to a Long Island town named for its seafood after all), the juiciness of the clams was stunning. I found the peppery bread crumb seasoning a tad too strong for my personal preferences, but it was nothing a spritz of lemon juice couldn’t balance to nigh-perfection. A solid classic on all counts!
Salmon was an interesting and bold choice for a tartare and the avocado served with it was the perfect complement. It’s a combination I’m most used to seeing when I order sushi, but nonetheless made for a welcome, creamy treat that I enjoyed across cultures. The fresh, light salmon was just another reminder that Da Marcella’s knows how to prepare its seafood.
The eggplant was slathered in fresh parmesan cheese and roasted to a smoky finish. Eggplant isn’t usually something I adore, but I marvel at what Da Marcella Taverna did with theirs. It’s a vegetable dish that I found as well cooked and flavored as any meat should be.
Firm enough to hold their shape, but still quite capable of melting in your mouth, the veal and pork meatballs came in a fresh tomato sauce. Simple and hearty, their tenderness allowed me to discern the veal immediately. A well-rounded, Italian classic!
Easy on the palette and generous to the taste buds, the Veal Ossabucco was a powerhouse dish and another one of my favorites at Da Marcella, combining even more sumptuous veal with the light, finely textured accents of a an impeccable arborio risotto.
Topped with a mountain of ruby-red herring roe and swirled with generous chunks of fresh crab meat, the Taglierini dish sparkled both on the plate and my palette. In terms of creativity and innovation on top of flavor, this dish ranks highly amongst the many pastas I’ve enjoyed. Every bit was flawlessly executed with the perfect amounts of sweet seafood, spice, and sauce that crafted a rich yet refreshing summer dish. Order it for the experience and be prepared for a delectable one.
The next two pasta dishes were Da Marcella’s versions of popular classics–Spaghetto Organico “al Cacio Toscano e Pepe Nero” (Organic Spaghetti in a Cheese and Pepper Sauce) and Tagliatelle Artigianali Setter “al Ragu Bolognese Classico” (Tagliatelle in a Tomato and Meat Sauce). Both were fresh, al dente, and organic. The spaghetti managed to have that alfredo-like quality in the cheese sauce without being too heavy. The tagliatelle’s bolognese sauce was simmered for eight hours and the quality was palpable to my taste buds. These two dishes really exemplified Da Marcella’s ability to take even the most seemingly simple of favorites and add some decadence to them.
For our main course, we were treated to the Braised Short Rib of Beef ‘al Barolo’ with Creamy Polenta. It was an enormous hunk of herb-infused meat that slid cleanly and delectably off the bone. The accompanying polenta was a welcome, Italian substitute to potatoes with a nice grainy consistency.
Desserts, Wines, and Dessert Wines
I and my fellow diners were so satiated after the first 10 courses that we actually had to ask that two of the dessert courses be cancelled. Trust me, it was not a decision we made lightly–my heart and stomach were quite heavy!
For dessert, we enjoyed two more Italian specialities: The Tiramisu and The Panna Cotta, both lovely, fluffy finishers to an incredible meal. The Tiramisu was expertly dusted with fresh coffee while the Panna Cotta was like eating a cloud of sugar and milk, drizzled with raspberry sauce.
I sampled the Moscato D’asti 2011. Cascina Delle Pertiche, a sweet, effervescent white for my dessert wine. Da Marcella’s Wine Director Alessandro Bandini prepared some stunning pairings, coupling each course with an authentic, imported Italian wine. Be sure to ask for them when you visit!
Ultimately, Da Marcella Taverna offers delicious, authentic Italian food at authentic Italian prices. It’s rare to find an Italian classic for under $20 and even rarer to find one worth gorging on. As a New Yorker trying to adhere to a budget, I know I’ll be back to the taverna soon.
ADDRESS: 142 West Houston Street (Between MacDougal and Sullivan)
Phone Number: (646) 559 – 9192
HOURS: Dinner from 5 PM to 11:30 PM, Monday-Thursday and 5 PM to 12 AM on Friday. Noon-Midnight on Weekends for Lunch and Dinner.
Happy Hour from 4-PM to 7 PM on Monday to Friday (Italian small plates and half price on select wines).