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dell’anima: A Candidate for West Village’s Most Over-Rated

Perhaps my experience at dell’anima was colored by too high expectations, yet after dinner last night, it is clear that this choice Italian spot in the West Village either suffers from unwarranted hype or is the victim of a steep decline in quality over time. Why it is so hard to nab a reservation at a time other than 6:15pm and 10pm and why New Yorkers consistently flock here is totally beyond me. Atmosphere and food are only marginally above average and the service is plain awful.

dell’anima, a 3-year old endeavor by chefs Joe Campanale and Gabe Thompson, means “of the soul” and yet very little about this cramped space is soulful. Occupying a narrow swathe of space between Hudson and W. 4th, the restaurant features disorientingly low-ceilings (leading to minor claustrophobia issues), low lighting, 2 “bars” (a true bar at the front and a sort of chef’s bar at the open kitchen), and white paneled walls. There is little to no artwork to speak of, aside from a few scattered photographs and large mirrors, and very simple sturdy wooden furniture. The few outdoor tables on W.4th are by far the best bet as you’ve got space to move (and to breathe).

I knew the service was going to be an issue from the get-go when our waitress begrudgingly took my glass with black tufts of whatever in it and seemed irritated by my request for a clean new one (excuse me, ma’am if dirt isn’t appealing with my ice water). From there on out, not only was the table service slow to nonexistant but dishes came out at long 30min increments, we are asked to order “a full meal” together instead of placing a quick bruschetta order and mulling over the menu (pretentious much?), and our waitress never came to take our bill. By the end of the meal, I was so frustrated that I just started reaching out to whomever scrambled by in hopes of nabbing someone’s attention.

If the food had been outstanding, service foibles would have been partially forgiven; yet, no part of the meal came close to blowing me away. In getting to spread your own toppings over crispy Italian bread, the bruschetta was pleasingly interactive; however, the toppings themselves were nothing beyond meh – the rapini pesto needed more punch, the octopus had a tasty lime zest yet needed salt, and the cannelini had a disconcerting pasty taste and texture.

The house-made pastas were better, distinguished by the silky taste of high-quality pasta freshly produced. Yet, even with the superior quality, the flavors were off. The Tajarin “alla carbonara” was tasty but completely overwhelmed by black pepper – although listed on the menu, ramps were nowhere to be found and the delightful eggy flavor of carbonara missing. The Risotto Alla Pilota included housemade sausage, salumi and pecorino – a meaty savory combination that’s hard to mess up. Hearty, salty and soul-satisfying, the risotto was perhaps the only part of the meal worth talking about seriously.

Out of the two desserts ordered, one represented the low point of the meal and another one of the highs. On the one hand, the tiramisu was truly abysmal, lacking almost entirely in flavor and featuring a too-creamy texture that made me slightly squeamish. On the other, the espresso-rum almond cake with sea salt gelato and caramel crumbs was fantastic – the cake was soft, the gelato truly genius, and the caramel the perfect salty sweet brittle.

dell’anima seems to ride on its hyped reputation for whatever reason, yet work needs to be done not only on the service front but also with the general quality of the food. With so many spectacular Italian restaurants downtown, it’s hard to imagine why dell’anima seems content to rest on its ‘name-brand’ laurels.

Perfect For: a glass of wine and pasta outdoors (if you can swing it), late-night snack at the bar, seeking culinary inspiration at a chef’s table, early light meal before the crowds swarm

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