Donatella and DBar are the latest creations of Donatella Arpaia, the restaurateur and chef wannabe. The former is a pizzeria, the latter a cocktail bar. A passageway (not open to the public) connects the two, so that the same pizza can be served in both places.
Ms. Arpaia first came to notice in 1998, when she gave up her law practice and invested her whole trust fund to open the restaurant Bellini. Five years later, she supplied the financial backing for the hugely successful David Burke & Donatella on the Upper East Side. There followed a series of restaurants with the chef Michael Psilakis—in each case, Ms. Arpaia running the dining room while leaving the cooking to others more qualified.
Over the last couple of years, her partnerships with Messrs. Burke and Psilakis dissolved, and at Mia Dona (formerly a Psilakis collaboration) she took over the kitchen herself. In the Times, Sam Sifton knocked the former two-star restaurant down to zero, calling it “exactly the sort of decent, middlebrow, red-sauce Italian restaurant you’d relish if you found it in a town near the town where you grew up in the suburbs of New York.”
Ms. Arpaia, no longer content to be a restaurateur or a cook, is now a brand. Her proven inexhaustible talent is naming restaurants after herself: David Burke & you-know, Dona, Mia Dona, DBar, and Donatella. She is wonderful to look at, and in case you didn’t know, there’s a magazine featuring 45 glossy photos (and not much else) across just 15 pages. If there’s such a thing as over-exposure, Ms. Arpaia doesn’t seem to think she has reached it.
At Donatella, she imported a gold-clad word-burning oven from Naples. To ensure that the customers wouldn’t be in doubt about the name of the restaurant, she added “Donatella” in big white letters on the outside of it. That’s probably as much as you’ll see of her, unless one of the employees sends an alert that a big-whig is in the house, in which case she’ll rush over to blow the critic an air-kiss. We weren’t graced with her presence—not that we expected to be.
Ms. Arpaia’s absence wouldn’t matter if the staff running the place were on top of things. We found, instead, that drink orders weren’t taken, silverware had to be asked for, and at least one of the bathrooms didn’t have soap.
In addition to pizza, there’s a range of salumi ($9–10), antipasti ($12–15), fritti (9–12), insalate ($10–13), pastas ($15–18), and griglieria ($23–24). There’s only three or four items in each category, which at least suggests that the menu has been edited down to what the kitchen can do well.
Indeed, that proved to be the case. I liked the Arancini ($9; above left), rice balls with peas and sausage. The Zuppa di Cozze ($12; above right) did not have much of the tomato stew that was the basis for calling it a soup, but my son thought the mussels were excellent.
Ultimately, Donatella must deliver on its signature item, the pizza, and this wasn’t the case. There are seven kinds ($12–20) starting with a basic Marinara and building up to more complicated creations. The name of the most expensive one won’t surprise you: Donatella, with Piennolo del Vesuvio Tomatoes, Stracciatella, Rocket, and Basil.
They come in one size that is too much for one person, unless you have a very large appetite.
We shared the Enzo ($16), with smoked mozzarella, pecorino, sausage, and rapini (i.e., broccoli rabe). The crust was too floppy, the sausage tasted store-bought, and the broccoli was too over-powering. It was sloppily sliced into four unevenly-shaped pieces, which were two fewer than it needed. I did like the slightly musky flavor of burnt wood, but it was not enough to make this pizza worth trying again.
Donatella (184 Eighth Avenue between 19th & 20th Streets, Chelsea)