Dante Offers an Appealing Italian-ish Menu, Plus Negronis Galore
Caffè Dante in New York City’s Greenwich Village opened as a coffee house in 1915, becoming a popular neighborhood hangout serving espresso and casual Italian fare. In 2015, the Flotta family, which had owned it since 1971, sold it to a group of Australian investors led by Linden Pride, a veteran of Sydney's highly rated Rockpool. (Linden had also worked with AvroKO, a group of New York designers and restaurateurs with Australian roots whose other Manhattan properties include Ghost Donkey, Dante@Genuine, and Saxon & Parole — the last of which has locations in both New York and Moscow.)
Pride and his colleagues reopened the historic venue — calling it simply “Dante” — with a small but appealing menu and a serious cocktail program, most notably including a dozen variations on the Negroni including a classic version on tap. (It ranked No. 16 in the 2017 roster of The World's 50 Best Bars.)
The food might best be described as Italian-ish, with an occasional diversion in other directions (such as jamón ibérico with guindilla peppers and pan con tomate; mac 'n' cheese with truffles, cremini mushrooms, and provolone). Or maybe it's Italian through an Australian filter? The executive chef, Rachael Polhill, is from Oz (as are several of the servers), with the result that her takes on the cooking of Italy are just a little bit different, in some elusive way, than those of the average American assaying similar food. She's also a confident, unpretentious chef, who obviously likes her fare full-flavored.
A generous orb of creamy burrata shares the plate with a whole roasted tomato, peeled and drizzled with tomato vinaigrette, with sourdough rye toast on the side. A remarkable beet carpaccio covers the tender, paper-thin beet slices with a scattering of crumbled goat cheese, pine nuts, arugula, and a drizzle of chardonnay, and it all ends up fresh, bright, and delicious. Chicken (organic, of course) parm comes in a small cast-iron pot with lacinato kale and a thick blanket of provolone amply moistened with tomato sauce — homey and rich. The fillet steak is glazed with earthy porcini butter and accompanied by broccolini, whose pleasant bitterness cuts nicely through the richness of the meat.
Prices are fair (apart from an assortment of Italian-style cured meats, that steak is the most expensive thing on the menu at $27, and appetizers start at $12), and there are some interesting and affordable wines. Service is friendly and the atmosphere is relaxed. Old-timers who remember Dante's coffee house days may grouse — though good espresso may still be had — but in its new incarnation, the place still has a neighborhood feeling.