Da Marcella Mediterranean Taverna

UPDATE: THIS PLACE IS NOW CLOSED!

I was recently invited to a press dinner at Da Marcella Mediterranean Taverna in midtown. This place has an Italian- and Spanish-inspired menu that showcases high quality ingredients and expert preparation. Owner Manuel Moreno has two Da Marcella restaurants. The original taverna is in Greenwich Village, is small, and has a very comforting, mom & pop neighborhood feel with very affordable prices ($10 pastas). It’s been open for two years. The goal since the midtown opening in November is to recreate that atmosphere, despite the challenges of the area being less of a neighborhood.

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Manuel also endeavored to bring his Spanish heritage to light as well in the midtown location, as he is half Italian (mom’s side) and half Spanish (dad’s side).

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The downtown menu is fully Italian, but the midtown menu shows off some tapas, paella and other Spanish staples. All recipes were handed down from his grandmother to his mother (the restaurants’ namesake), so you know you are getting something authentic when you eat at his restaurants.

Our host for the evening was Ernesto, who is manager but also the wine expert. The downtown wine menu is Italian, but the midtown wine list is thoroughly Mediterranean, with choices from Spain and Greece a well as Italy. There are 18 wines by the glass, nine of which change frequently.

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As you can see from the tasting menu, he picked some really great wines to pair with each dish, all of which seemed to get increasingly better as the meal went on.

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So we started with the marinated octopus with caperberries, and Scottish salmon tartare with avocado. Both were absolutely amazing. The octopus was hands down the most tender I have ever eaten. The only thing that would have made it better is if it were grilled to give it a little char. The tartare was perfectly balanced between acidic, savory and even sweet. The wine paired here was a nice dry but floral white from Riax Baixas in the north part of Spain. I enjoyed it, and I typically don’t really like whites all that much.

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Next were the veal and pork mini-meatballs and a plate of burrata with prosciutto and truffle sauce. The truffle sauce was just the right amount of earthiness to bring out the other flavors and make them all pop. And the meatballs, well, they were soft and flavorful. It’s always tough to impress me with meatballs because I am spoiled by having good Italian mom and grandma meatballs, but these were excellent. The wine here was a really nice light Chainti. Well paired.

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The tagliatelle pasta was perfect. Fresh made, al dente, properly sauced, and really delicious. The bolognese sauce is highly complex without being heavy, which in itself is a feat. It contains 18 ingredients, a few of which are meats. They really make grandma proud here, as this is clearly a signature item at the restaurant. With the pasta we had a Cabernet-Montepulciano wine, which was my favorite of the night. Robust and flavorful, but not heavy or too acidic.

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Next we had the seafood and chicken paella, which contained chicken (of course), clams, mussels, calamari, string beans and peas. I haven’t had many paellas in my day, as I tend to like Asian rice dishes better for the crisp texture, but this was pretty damned good. I was amazed at how they got each separate ingredient to be perfectly cooked. For example, I imagine they have to throw in the calamari at a different time than the clams, and at a different time than the chicken, string beans, etc. Each component was just right, so that must be a real challenge. The wine for this and the beef course (next) was a rich Temperanillo. Full bodied, well aged; a no bullshit kind of wine. Probably quite costly too had we been paying customers.

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Our last savory course was the wine-braised beef short rib with creamy polenta. This was awesome. The meat was a bit salty, but when you took a bite with the polenta (which was amazing on its own too) it really balanced it out nicely. I was a happy meat man when eating this. So tender, soft and flavorful.

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For dessert we had a sampling of three items: pannacotta, tiramisu, and ricotta cheese cake. Owner Manuel is a baker by trade, so all desserts are made in house if not brought in from his personal Long Island City bakery called the Bakery of New York. The pannacotta was my favorite here. It was perfectly textured – creamy yet firm. It had herb notes of sage or tarragon as well. Very inventive. The tiramisu was very nice as well, but the consensus of others at the table was that the cheese cake was the big winner. Not too heavy, really nice flavors.

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To sum it up; I really enjoyed the meal here, and I plan to go back soon, especially since it’s so close to my office. I’d also love to get down to the original location in the village to try out some of their very affordable and highly rated pastas (if I can get a table – the place is now generating big lines from what I understand, because there is a lot of demand).

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