Thursday, September 6, 2012


Fried squash blossoms.
About 3 years ago I started keeping a running journal of my dining notes. On my home computer I have a desktop folder filled with Word documents for individual restaurants that contain my notes from every meal eaten. It's a tedious exercise, but one that forces me to write down my thoughts almost immediately instead of relying on memory to write a blog post days (or weeks or months) later.

Whenever I open a restaurant's Word doc, it's always interesting to see how far down that I need to scroll to make the newest entry. Some restaurants have notes from only one previous meal, while others - such as Cochon Butcher or Felipe's - are filled with reflections from 20 or more visits.

But the restaurant with the most entries by far is Domenica. I counted 36 entries the other day, and I would estimate that I left off another dozen or so. Our repeat business is a reflection of a number of factors: (1) the convenience of living 3 blocks away; (2) the convenience of working 4 blocks away; (3) The Folk Singer's school girl crush on Chef Alon Shaya; and (4) the fact that Domenica is simply our favorite restaurant in the city. It's no surprise that after a 3 day evacuation for Hurricane Isaac, Domenica was our first stop upon returning home.

Prosciutto pizza.
Our devotion to Domenica is easily understood considering the breadth of the menu and excellence of execution throughout. It all starts with a complimentary basket of thick sliced focaccia swiped through pools of olive oil spiked with chilis. If I am feeling especially over indulgent, I'll ask for a basket of torta frita - airy, flaky pillows of dough fried in pork fat - which remind me of the sopapillas from Pancho's, except 100x better. Salumi and cheese boards with accoutrements of satsuma/jalapeno marmalade and picked fennel are optimal for large parties, and you should always make sure to include taleggio on your list of choices.

Rarely does a full service Italian restaurant put such an emphasis on perfect pizza. Chef Alon first mixed the pizza starter dough in 2008, more than a year before the restaurant opened. Like a fine wine, the dough has improved with each passing year. Often times we forget that pizza is just as much about the crust as the toppings and sauce, but the fresh, bubbly pies pulled from the oven at Domenica might be the best bread in the city. As for toppings, my favorite is the Bolzano, with chunks of roasted pork, some fatty, some lean, and fennel, bacon, and sweet onions. Basil pesto with goat cheese and heirloom tomatoes is a close second.

Stracci with oxtails and fried chicken livers.
I have tried every pasta course on the menu, but I always come back to the stracci with oxtails and fried chicken livers. The rags of pasta are incredibly thin and incorporate perfectly with the shreds of oxtail cooked down with tomato. To be honest, the dish is great even without the fried chicken livers, but I gladly devour the rich, crunchy morsels covered in a shower of grated parm and a squeeze of lemon which cuts through their richness. Tagliatelle with rabbit is an excellent choice, as is the garganelli with white bolognese and peas. And the kitchen is constantly rotating new dishes in and out, such as sea urchin with spaghetti, an inspiration from Chef's recent trip through Barcelona back in April. Smash the fat, salty orbs of uni with the olive oil and chili flakes in the bottom of the bowl, then toss to coat the pasta. Luxuriously delicious.

Fried kale.
Admittedly, I rarely venture outside the pizza and pasta categories, save for branching out for an order of wood roasted goat in colder months. But I always find room for an order flash fried kale, crisp and rich but balanced with acidic bite of tart lemon, richness of grated parm, and sweetness of heirloom tomato. Perfect as a side dish, but worthy of anchoring a meal despite what Mitchell Pritchett says.

As much as I love Domenica and TFS loves Alon Shaya, I make no representation that there is not room for improvement. Lunch service has always been slow, although speed has picked up over the last few months. Still, I've found that dining at the bar is your only chance at keeping the lunch hour to under 60 minutes. And I always feel that the prices in the anti-pasti section are about 15% too high. $18 for a head of roasted cauliflower? The same price for a portion of burrata? $14 for three fried squash blossoms?

But despite what can be a long lunch wait, I am still quick to jump at the opportunity for lunch at Domenica for a porchetta panino built upon a foundation of the freshly baked focaccia and filled with warm juicy, thick slices of roasted pork, barely melting provolone, rapini for greenery, and garlic mayo. The roasted cauliflower, toasty golden brown with a knife protruding out from the top like the sword in the stone, usually finds a place at our table along with a plate of whipped goat feta sprinkled with chiles. And the fried squash blossoms are still better than their counterparts at Mario Batali's Otto Enoteca.

Is it any wonder why I love this place?

Domenica - Birdie/Eagle
123 Baronne Street
(504) 648-6020
Open Daily 11am - 11pm


thomas cook said...

Well said, Pete. Working for Chef Alon was a great experience. He demands excellence from his staff and it shines in his food. Can't wait to have my rehearsal dinner there in December.

Celeste said...

The fried artichokes are reason enough to return to Domenica.

Bloggle said...

Nice shootin' Tex. Really well write and this piece proves that having an affinity for a place can coexist with an objective assessment of the place. Well done. Having had one half glass of wine too many last night I think I know where lunch is today.

Anonymous said...

Domenica is my favorite place as well. I could eat there twice a week, for a while at least. I'm also always cheered when I am in there that it (like other Besh outposts) is a place where tourists can come and get really good food, without being subjected to the usual hotel nonsense. That should be the norm in this city, and it isn't, except in a few hotels.

Anonymous said...

The squash blossoms are now $18 (ouch).