Sunday, June 22, 2014

Da Marcella Mediterranean Taverna in Midtown Offers Italian and Spanish "Comfort Food".

The area around Rockefeller Center, while rich in notable attractions, is somewhat devoid of notable, non-chain restaurants. Restaurateur Manuel Moreno and his Executive Chef Francesco Mueses are trying to change that with Da Marcella Mediterranean Taverna. Having opened in November 2013, at 11 W. 51st Street, Da Marcella Mediterranean Taverna is already building a name for itself, and was completely packed with patrons when I went for a press dinner on a recent Thursday evening. This may be because some are already familiar with Da Marcella's acclaimed West Village location, but more likely it's because locals and tourists alike are finding that the rustic, homestyle Italian and Spanish fare offered is of the highest quality and quite delectable.

Meatballs Da Marcella
Photo by WGINY
Nestled between 5th Avenue and Rockefeller Plaza, Da Marcella Mediterranean Taverna has an unassuming entrance that you could almost miss, so look out for the eponymous awning. Once you step inside, descend a staircase lined with inspiring culinary quotes, and you will see that the atmosphere is incredibly warm and inviting, and understand why owner Moreno calls his taverna "a neighborhood restaurant that just wants to feed people in the same generous manner that [his] mother fed half of the neighborhood in which [he] grew up 60 years ago in Madrid." In fact, many of the menu items, such as the signature pasta dish, Tagliatelle alla Bologenese, are made from original family recipes. Da Marcella's expansive dinner menu offers eight different pasta dishes, six of which are only $16. For those who work in the neighborhood or are visiting on a weekday afternoon, the price of the lunch portions is nearly half that, at only $9 for a filling pasta entree. Organic whole wheat and gluten free pasta are also available for an additional $1.

Tagliatelle alla Bolognese,Topped with Fresh, Grated Parmesan Cheese
Photo by WGINY
Speaking of that Tagliatelle, it may just become your favorite go-to comfort dish, made with al dente pasta, and a Bolognese Ragu that is cooked for eight hours and combines 18 different ingredients, creating a flavorful, but not overpowering sauce, which allows you to focus on the sweet finish of the meat. Ask for fresh Parmesan cheese to top the Tagliatelle, and try pairing with a glass of Sada Integolo Toscana IGT, a Cabernet-Montepulciano blend that combines both a full-bodied and light taste, much like the Tagliatelle.

Another stand-out comfort-food item is the Meatballs Da Marcella (pictured above), Chef Francesco's specialty veal and pork meatballs made with San Marzano tomato sauce. There's no beef in these meatballs, yet one taste reveals that these supple morsels are truly from the upper cut. Other notable appetizers included the smooth and savory Burrata Cheese, San Daniele Prosciutto, with Truffle Sauce over "Crostone," which paired nicely with a well-rounded Melini Chianti by Borghi d'Elsa, and the Pulpo Marinado a la Catalana, made with freshly grilled Spanish octopus that is so tender and simple, you'll forget you're eating shellfish. The latter dish was complimented by a glass of crisp, Spanish white wine made from the most recognized grape in the region, an Albariño wine from Rias Baixas.

Burrata Cheese, San Daniele Prosciutto, Truffle Sauce over "Crostone"
Picture from Da Marcella website, used with permission

Pulpo Marinado a la Catalana
Photo by WGINY
As for that notable Spanish flair of Da Marcella's (mostly Italian) Mediterranean Taverna, it is exceptionally prevalent in the recently introduced Paella "Da Marcella," made in the traditional Valencia style, with Bomba rice, clams, mussels, chicken, azafran, mixed vegetables, and azarfrán. Although this item does not currently appear on the regular menu, it is often offered as a house specialty, and is definitely made to share.

Paella "Da Marcella"
Photo by WGINY
Before you leave, don't forget to partake in at least one of the rich desserts, the perfect way to round out the evening and head home happy and fulfilled. WGINY recommends the velvety Ricotta Cheese Cake, or the creamy, fruity Panna Cotta. All desserts are made in-house and are only $8.

Trio of Desserts. R to L: Panna Cotta, Tiramisu, Ricotta Cheese Cake

Da Marcella Mediterranean Taverna's midtown location is open Monday to Thursday from 11:30am-10:30pm, Friday from 11:30am-11pm, Saturday from 4pm-11pm, and Sunday from 4pm-10pm. Reservations are recommended and can be made online or by calling 917-639-3911. There is a full bar (whereas West Village location offers only beer and wine), currently offering a wide variety of 18 wines by the glass, and with rotating happy hour specials.

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