Note: Dani closed as of January 1, 2008. It’s tough to make it in Hudson Square.
If a restaurant is good enough, there’s practically no such thing as a bad neighborhood in New York. Put differently, there’s no neighborhood that diners won’t trek to—for the right reasons.
But some neighborhoods definitely have their challenges, including Hudson Square. Starting with the fact that many New Yorkers haven’t even heard of Hudson Square. Roughly, it’s the rectangular patch bounded by Canal Street, Houston Street, Sixth Avenue, and the Hudson River. Some sources quote slightly different borders. Others call it by different names, such as West SoHo, South Village, or best of all, HoHo (it’s between Houston and the Holland Tunnel).
There’s not much to draw pedestrians to Hudson Square. The retail trade is practically nonexistent. Many of the buildings are stubby monoliths, occupying entire square blocks. They aren’t a welcoming sight. The neighborhood has long ago shed its warehousing and manufacturing image, embracing the new economy and condo loft conversions. But it has none of the chic of TriBeCa to the south, SoHo to the east, or the Village to the north.
Enter Dani, a Sicilian–Italian trattoria at the intersection of Hudson and Charlton Streets in Hudson Square. The opening was well publicized, and the restaurant drew a relatively enthusiastic one-star review from Frank Bruni. But I gather Dani still isn’t drawing the traffic it needs, because recently they invited me to dine as their guests.
The appetizers at Dani are in two groups: Per La Tavola ($7–19), mostly crudo selections arranged for sharing; and standard antipasti ($8–13). Cured meats ($14; above left) were top-notch, although what really had us hooked was the house made ricotta. From the antipasto list, grilled octopus ($13; above right) with oregano, parsley potatoes and sherry vinegar made a terrific noshing snack to start with.
There’s a recurring series of daily specials, of which the kitchen sent out three for us to sample:
- Carbonara con Prosciuto e Uovo di Anitra ($21; Mondays; above left). Spaghettini with house made duck prosciutto, duck egg, black pepper, pecorino. This rich dish was the hit of the evening.
- Porchetta di Coniglio ($27; Thursdays; above center). Whole roasted rabbit stuffed with rabbit and pork sausage. Also an extremely impressive dish.
- Polpettone di Pesce Spada ($20; Fridays; above right). Swordfish meatballs, marinara, neopolitan rigatoni. We found the swordfish meatballs a wonderfully clever idea. The dish packed a lot of heat, and I thought the rigatoni were too large.
There’s a standard list of pastas ($17–19), none of which we tried. The secondi include half-a-dozen composed entrées ($23–27), and several “simply grilled” selections ($20–32), which come with a choice of side dish.
Seared Sea Scallops and Braised Pork Belly ($27; above left) were a combination I don’t recall encountering anywhere else, but I couldn’t resist two of my favorites on the same plate. They came with a garnish of cauliflower, capers, pine nuts, and raisins. I particularly loved the scallops, which were perfectly browned on the outside, sweet and moist on the inside.
Alas, Grilled Sausage ($20; above right) was a dud, suffering either from over-cooking or not enough moisture.
We weren’t especially wowed by any of the desserts (all $6). A Frangipane Tart (above left) didn’t yield easily enough to the fork. Mint Panna Cotta (above center) didn’t generate much excitement. House Made Ricotta Cheesecake (above right) didn’t have the creamy consistency of the better cheesecakes.
The décor at Dani is post-industrial chic. The brick walls and hardwood floors reflect plenty of sound. Service was solid, though it must be noted the staff knew they were being reviewed.
I was delighted to see a wine list with reasonable choices below $40. We chose a Colvecchio, Toscana 2000 Syrah from Castello Banfi ($75), one of several growers that Dani features. We thought it flattered the food extremely well.
My girlfriend and I enjoyed most of what we tasted at Dani. The restaurant is operating well above the level of a neighborhood trattoria (a genre of which New York has more than enough entrants). There were a couple of soft spots, but enough highlights to make it well worth a visit to an unfamiliar neighborhood.
Dani (333 Hudson Street at Charlton Streeet, Hudson Square)