WHY IT'S NOTEWORTHY
Domenica is the maximum current attempt to duplicate certain culinary practices very common in Italy but rarely seen here. There are three major specialties. The best is pizza, baked in a five-ton, wood-fired oven made of stone. The chef makes a showy array of salumi, curing meats for months in house. The remainder of the menu uses pasta, meats and seafood in about three dozen small and large dishes, most of them rustic in style. Eighty percent of the menu will be unfamiliar to anyone who has not been to Italy.
WHY IT'S GOOD
The pizza could be called the best of all time locally. The thin crust is charred here and there by the hot fire, topped with an offbeat selection of ingredients. The salumi is extraordinary. It may even be too good. A little of it goes a long way. The remainder of the menu is widely variable, with some dishes tasting much better than they sound, and a few (the pasta with chicken livers and oxtail ragu, for example) giving the opposite effect. This is a great restaurant for people who like to try dishes and menu plans different from the norm.
After over a year of planning (during which Chef Alon Shaya spent many months in Italy) Dominica opened in the fall of 2009, as nearly the last piece of the renewed Roosevelt Hotel. The restaurant's name is Italian for "Sunday," when in the glory days of the Roosevelt Hotel many local people went there for dinner. The hotel had a restaurant in this space for almost a hundred years--most recently Bailey's, the hotel's all-day restaurant.
The tall, wide room gets further spaciousness from a wall of windows looking to the rococo facade of Jesuit Church. Unclothed, rustic tables built of wood planks, topped with jars of long breadsticks, stand a bit too close to one another throughout the room, which is divided by massive square columns and split levels. What looks like the bar is actually the salumi station, where chefs work meat slicers on the cured meats in the glass-fronted walk-in cooler behind them.
Pizza (lighter variations recommended)
Salumi (individual cuts or combination boards with cheese, especially prosciutto, coppa, lardo, speck, and soppressata)
Minestra di orzo (vegetable, meatball and barley soup)
Anolini in brodo (small ravioli in chicken broth)
Bruschetta of burrata mozzarella and garlic
Octopus carpaccio with fennel and citrus
Crispy calamari salad
Fried squash blossoms with goat cheese
Cavatelli pasta with fennel sausage and beans
Wood grilled shrimp and calamari
Tagliatelle with rabbit ragu, porcini mushrooms
Risotto with white truffle and pancetta
Trofie (hand-rolled pasta strings with pesto and artichokes)
Stracci (torn pasta) with oxtail ragu and fried chicken livers
Linguine with clams, mussels, crab and shrimp
Goat cheese tortelloni with fava beans, tomatoes and guanciale
Paccheri pasta stuffed with crab, cream and cabbage
Brodetto (spicy seafood stew)
Whole grilled redfish, or roasted redifsh fillet
Braciole di capretto (goat loin stuffed with pulled goat shoulder)
Roast chicken with fava beans, morels and bacon
Cherry and ricotta fritters with chocolate zabaglione
Chocolate and hazelnut pudding with candied hazelnuts
FOR BEST RESULTS
No matter what, a pizza must come to your table, preferably as soon after you sit down as possible. Try a little of the house-made prosciutto or other salumi selections. The cheeses are less impressive. Across the menu, the most exotic dishes have a way of being the best (the goat-stuffed goat loin, for example.)
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
The lack of tablecloths and the use of smallish china with no underliners of any kind makes for a glaring comfort deficiency--at least to my sensitivities. And no bread? What's authentic about that? I've never been to a restaurant in Italay that didn't bring bread out immediately. It must be begged for here. (The breadsticks don't cut it.)
FACTORS OTHER THAN FOOD
Up to three points, positive or negative, for these characteristics. Absence of points denotes average performance in the matter.
- Dining Environment +1
- Consistency +1
- Attitude +1
- Wine and Bar +1
- Hipness +2
- Local Color +2
- Good view
- Good for business meetings
- Many private rooms
- Open Sunday lunch and dinner
- Open Monday lunch and dinner
- Open all holidays
- Open until 11 p.m.
- Open all afternoon
- Good for children
- Reservations recommended
ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
The leading local culinary trends from 2009 into this year have focused on two related flavors: cured meats and Tuscan-style Italian food. It seems as though dozens of chefs are making their own charcuterie, prosciutto, and salumi (the appealing Italian word for "cured deli meats"). Even competing with all that, Chef John Besh's new restaurant in the Roosevelt Hotel made the biggest splash. Domenica--his fifth restaurant--goes so far as to raise its own pigs and dry-curing the hams for months.
On the other hand, it appears that the chefs have become much more excited about all these long-lingering meats than the customers have been. It's not the fault of the salumi--all of that has been wonderful. But the price of an appetizer may bring just two or three slices of some of this stuff, and diners are not exactly jumping up and down about it. If you like it, enjoy it now. This will not be long-term. The more accessible pizza and pasta will, however.
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