Did you ever meet someone at a football game, who shouted, “Even I could coach this football team?”
It happens with restaurants too. Donatella Arpaia was in partnership with two very talented chefs, David Burke and Michael Psilakis. She split up with both, so that she could do the cooking herself, despite having no training as a professional chef.
Turns out, it’s not so easy. So says Sam Sifton in a withering zero-star review of Mia Dona:
And so here is the new, chef-less iteration of Mia Dona: 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. Within the five boroughs of New York City, we call that sort of restaurant satisfactory.
“Satisfactory” is Times-speak for mediocre:
The main dishes, however, go off the rails. That eggplant parmigiana is almost totally free of taste or character, a sandwich interior taken from a deli in Anywhereville. The roasted baby chicken with peppers and sweet-and-sour cipollini onions, meanwhile, has a corporate tang, a hint of mild depression: a charity-dinner entree made for 200 people.
There is competently prepared branzino, boring as protein out of a can marked “farmed white fish,” and unremarkable mussels in a sauce made of white wine, with tomato and pancetta. You’ve had that before.
And for those who have only experienced tripe-ish excellence at restaurants like Casa Mono or Momofuku Ssam Bar, Mia Dona’s version of tomato-braised beef tripe with garlic toast can serve as a complete explanation why some consider tripe to be spongy and horrid. It is both.
This was technically a demotion, as Frank Bruni had awarded two stars to Mia Dona when Michael Psilakis was in the kitchen. But after Psilakis’s departure Mia Dona became, in essence, a brand new restaurant. And according to Sifton, no longer a very good one.
We gave one star to Mia Dona, but truth be told, it was at the lower end of one star. We have no argument with Sifton’s decision to give zero.