Nothing about the East Village feels like going to your grandmother’s house. Not the clanking, crowded L train to get there, not the sparsely lit thoroughfare that is Avenue A. And certainly not walking through a bar to get to her front door.
But once you pull aside a curtain at the back of The Garret East, press a doorbell and step inside Dinnertable, there’s another kind of comfort that surrounds you. The new 20-seat speakeasy dining room behind a faux wooden cottage door is the kind of effortlessly cool artsy space (a painting of red lips on a dinner plate, a Moleskine notebook mural) that is the NYC version of home. It’s the worn-in cool of The Doors and Otis Redding, where friends gather under low-hung Edison bulb fixtures to pass the night with glasses of biodynamic wine (though don’t miss the excellent trio of cocktails).
The family dinner vibe comes from married chefs Scott Tacinelli and Angie Rito, most recently of Quality Italian and long before then a life of Italian family dinners. That touchstone gives them the kind of insights you dare not mention as a child to the cook, as Tacinelli whispers conspiratorially over the Lasagna Bolo for Two ($40). By standing up the six rolls of pasta sheets in rosebud-like swirls, every portion has those coveted crispy edges, while the substitution of Italian sausage for pork in Tacinelli’s grandmother’s otherwise traditional bolognaise gives the dish a savory edge to cut through the sweet tomato sauce.
Among the appetizers, a tartare made with smoked short rib ($12) gets a dab of horseradish sauce and a housemade marble-rye cracker instead of toast, its genius twofold: crisp texture, no sogginess. Their take on the Caesar salad ($11) gets a springtime tang from chrysanthemum leaves, and is made with enough anchovies to be pleasantly funky, tempered with a cloud of freshly shaved Parmesan. Skip the baked mussels, which arrived gritty with pepperoni-infused rice that ended up echoing the brininess with salt, while the Sicilian potato dumplings just didn’t achieve the beautiful simplicity of another Italian classic, cacio e pepe.
But you don’t want to fill up on appetizers anyway, not when the desserts are two throwback treats that definitely never graced grandma’s table — though busy parents’ freezer is another story. There aren’t enough chocolate tacos being made, and Dinnertable’s gets a grown-up touch with espresso ice cream filling. But the real treat is their take on the Pillsbury Toaster Strudel: puff pastry piped full of an almond-clementine-oregano-honey filling and served alongside a robiola glacee and a miniature pitcher of glaze, so you won’t have to thieve an extra packet and leave your brother with a naked pastry on Monday morning. It’s tough to improve on childhood, but Dinnertable just may have pulled it off.
206 Ave. A (through a back door at The Garret)
Tuesday-Sunday, 5:30-11:30 p.m.