Finding under-the-radar, cheap, quality Italian date night spots in NYC ain’t easy. I’ve got a couple places tucked away in my back pocket with delicious, reasonably priced pastas such as Batali’s Otto which I’ve already written about, but it doesn’t always fit the bill. The biggest issue with Otto is that their wine list is on the expensive side which can add up quick on a date. And then there’s Fiat Cafe which is awesome, but not always easy to grab a table at due to its compact size. That’s why I’m happy I’ve found the hidden in plain sight Greenwich Village gem Da Marcella.
I’m sure I’ve walked by this minute restaurant situated on the bustling MacDougal and Houston corner a million times. I live only two blocks from the place and stop by the amazing fresh pasta shop next door frequently, but had never really thought to dine in at Da Marcella before. Perhaps it’s because I’ve learned how easy it is to swing by the neighboring Raffetto’s and cook up some down-right gourmet pasta at home, but I’m glad I finally did stop in because I had a really excellent meal and experience at Da Marcella.
It’s a pretty small restaurant, but they have plenty of seating and I appreciate that they don’t overpack the space with as many tables as most tiny NYC restaurants do. The dining area is seated four or five stairs below ground level and also has space for a single two-top table in their front yard. Since we’ve finally reached the warm season in NYC, we took the opportunity to dine al fresco and enjoy the hurried New York City world passing us by as we ate and drank.
In my opinion, any good date night spot needs alcoholic drinks of some sort and since we were going to be having Italian food, red wine seemed like a smart choice. I looked over the wine list and was really excited to find quite a few good bottles for only $26 with a number of others for just a few bucks more. There’s plenty of great options and we really loved the bold, flavorful Montepulciano we selected to drink with our meal.
To start it off, we split an appetizer from the daily specials menu. I found myself immediately drawn to Fiddlehead Ferns “Saltati” and after explaining that they were a spiral shaped vegetable kind of like asparagus, I got the go-ahead on the order. The pan-grilled, alien-like greens were both tender and crisp and had a wonderful buttery, charred flavor that was enhanced by the wonderful pile of caramelized shallots. They were really tasty and a great way to sneak some veggies into a meal.
For entrees, we split two dishes from the Primi section of the menu which is primarily reserved for pastas. This section of the menu is miraculously completely filled with $10 options save for one $12 and $14 seafood-based dish.
We started with the Pappardelle alla Fiorentina which was topped with large, curled up, meaty, salty, hunks of smokey pancetta and a rich, creamy, full-flavored, cognac-based pink sauce. The pasta was a perfectly chewy al dente and easily sopped up the thick and creamy sauce with every forkful. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if they sourced these fresh noodles from next door at Raffetto’s and I wouldn’t blame them either, because as I already know, those noodles are spectacular. The dish was everything we had hoped it would be. Truly comforting Italian pasta.
And speaking of comforting Italian food, the other dish we ordered from the Primi section was the only not-strictly-pasta dish offered, the Lasagna alla Bolognese. We also had this dish for a measly ten-dollar-bill.
Served in a piping hot, bubbling ceramic bowl, this massive, cheesy rectangle sputtered and steamed as it was dropped in front of me. The molten, meaty, noodley, cheesy concoction was so flavorful and really hit the spot as the sun was setting and the evening chill began to roll in. Again, this was exactly what I was hoping for and truly a steal at that price.
If you couldn’t already tell, I’m pretty excited about this find. It’s not easy to come across such a great, reasonably priced restaurant in NYC especially with fairly-priced high-quality wine, great service, and a date night atmosphere. This really is a New York City gem.
Got another off-the-radar cheap date night spot in NYC? Let me know in the comments below.
142 W. Houston St. New York, NY 10012