Note: Dona closed in early 2007, after Arpaia lost her lease. (Well, technically she was bought out, but the landlord created a situation where there was no real option to stay.) A more casual version of the concept, Mia Dona, opened six blocks north in February 2008.
Dona is the latest restaurant creation of impresaria Donatella Arpaia, who also brought us David Burke & Donatella (DB&D) on the upper East Side and Ama in SoHo. All three opened in about a two-year span, so you can conclude that Arpaia doesn’t linger over her creations (indeed, she has already exited her partnership in Ama).
DB&D is one of the hottest restaurant openings of the last several years, and as far as I can tell, it’s still a tough table to get. Dona is just getting started. Arpaia’s partner is chef Michael Psilakis. The website is just a stub right now, showing a photo of Arpaia and Psilakis, with “Modern European Cuisine” in big letters.
I took a friend to Dona a couple of weeks ago. The space is attractively decorated, and the sound is nowhere near as deafening as at DB&D. Actually, I’m happy to say that we could hear ourselves talk without much trouble at all. There was a pleasant buzz, but it wasn’t packed. On the other hand, Dona isn’t a breakaway hit, like DB&D. The day of my reservation, I had to change the time from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. “We can do that,” said the reservationist. In contrast, last time I went to DB&D, we were sternly told that we had to keep our original time, and if we were more than 20 minutes late, we’d lose our table.
The menu has separate sections for cold appetizers ($12–16), hot appetizers ($13–15), pasta ($18–24), fish ($26–32) and meat ($24–45). For $75, you can choose two appetizers, a pasta, and a fish or meat course, and we went that route. It’s been about 10 days now, but I believe I had the Tartare (two contrasting raw fish bites), Spiced Almond Crusted Prawns (two hefty ones), Gnuci (sheep’s milk ricotta dumplings), and the pork chop.
My recollection is that it was all solidly done, but I was not wowed. The enormous pork chop came slathered in a heavy tomato-based ragout. It struck me that this was: A) far too much food after three earlier courses; and B) far too heavy for a summer menu. It didn’t go to waste, though, as my friend took home a doggie bag.
Service was friendly, and we were quite pleased both with a sparkling rosé that we ordered before dinner and a sauterne that we ordered afterwards.
Dona (208 E. 52nd St. between Second & Third Avenues, Turtle Bay)