228 E 10th St
(between 1st Ave & 2nd Ave)
New York, NY 10003
I was looking for a cozy little restaurant where LAW and I would be able to pause time for a couple of hours for his birthday. Dieci seemed to fit the bill. We had walked by this mysterious little restaurant a number of times and G.B. recently went and had very good things to say. The Italian-Japanese restaurant is carved into the ground on 10th street between 1st and 2nd avenues. Because the restaurant is below ground level, there is a certain quiet intimacy to it. We sat next to each other facing the window, where we could spy on East-Villagers walk by as we ate. Aside from the uncomfortably high and tiny bar seats (LAW had to rescue my lap napkin that fell to the floor at least three times), the place felt perfect for the occasion.
We started with the seared duck breast with garlic and scallions ($10 – I think). The portions were larger than I expected for a fancy-ish place like this. The duck was a little gamey, but almost in a good way. It was marinated in something a little sweet and salty and served with bits of scallion and garlic. Each piece had a thin sliver of fat attached to it, which cut the gameyness and added a little juiciness. Not standout but certainly tasty.
After having the squid ink pasta at Daily Catch recently, we’ve been on the hunt for a NY equivalent. This is the Tagliolini ($16), squid ink pasta, tomato, and calamari.
The tomato sauce was fantastic. Super fresh. Naturally sweet. Slightly garlicy. Simple. Definitely made with some very high quality tomatoes. The squid ink is probably the best I’ve had in the city thus far. Not many pasta places in NY offer squid ink so I don’t have much to compare to. It was very fragrant, as squid ink is without being too fishy, but could have been a little more al dente.
Despite the dull colors of the dish (Chinese cooking values color very much in food), it was actually super tasty. The cod was fatty, flakey, and very lightly seared on the outside. It tasted lightly of miso, with less sake flavor than I’m used to having with miso cod. The risotto was perfectly chewy. Its truffle flavor added a nice strong flavor to the light miso cod. The poached egg bound all the flavors together to create a coherent whole dish. The flavors of the miso, mushrooms, risotto, and egg were all somewhat strong but somehow worked and balanced each other out. I really enjoyed this.
The waitress messed up our order and didn’t bring out two of our appetizers until the very end. Tsk. This is the Brussels Sprouts ($8) with parmesan, miso, and walnuts. Like cod, we tend to order brussels sprouts whenever they’re offered. The little sprouts were fresh and crunchy, unlike the soggy kind that Saxon + Parole and Westville have. The saltiness of the parmesan tasted great with the sweet miso glaze. Walnuts added more sweetness and crunch. A great side of veggies to go with the meal.
The last dish that came was the the Chawanmushi ($9), egg custard with foie gras and oyster mushrooms. I expected the foie gras to be served on top of the egg custard but it was actually mixed in with the egg! It was g-damn delicious. The soft egg custard mixed with the creamy foie gras produced a rich and buttery custard that tasted like foie gras infused egg. This was the most standout dish of the night. +1 for creativity. It would have been better if it came as a starter dish (as it should have) because it’s quite heavy.
Dinner at Dieci was exactly what I wanted. It was romantic, creative, tasty, and not at all pretentious. Everything tasted at least a solid four out of five. But there isn’t a dish that sends me running back for more. What is it about places like Robataya that keep me wanting more compared to places like Dieci or EN Japanese Brasserie, both very solid restaurants, but only worth a single visit?