Come for the negroni, stay for the vibe and just move right in for the pasta. It's that simple, pleasure-seeking ideology that embodies Dante, the beloved MacDougal Street Italian café turned small plates restaurant and cocktail bar in 2015. After a century as a staple in the once predominantly Italian neighborhood, the original owners, a Fiotta family, sold the name to an Australian hospitality group helmed by Linden Pride (AvroKO), who revamped both the decor (green-leather banquettes, a pressed-tin ceiling) and menu, but preserves the storied history through classic Italian food and drink.
Overseen by renowned Sydney-born bartender-journalist Naren Young (AvroKO), the bar program centers on the European tradition of the afternoon aperitivo, which is showcased finely through a daily $9 negroni session from 4pm to 7pm. On a recent visit, a shaken negroni frappe proved more fluffy and refreshing than the original with dominating notes of citrus, while a cold-brew–laced negroni coffee swizzle allows even a subtle aroma of java to shine. Beyond those classic variations, Dante’s house offerings include the simple yet photogenic Garibaldi ($12; Campari, fress-pressed orange juice) and a refined take on the classic Pimm’s Cup ($14).
While the drinks are attention-grabbing, executive chef Rachael Polhill's health-friendly bar fare is certainly nothing to sleep on either. Composed of small plates, the menu is perfect for sharing. A starter of juicy heirloom tomatoes tossed with shallots, feta and watercress in a bright cab sav vinaigrette ($12) is simple, but the freshness of the greens make it worth ordering. A recent special of flatbread ($15) arrived with figs, peanuts and arugula on a thicker and more doughy slab of bread than the traditional crisp, with the figs providing a sweetness that nicely offset the nutty flavor. An orrecchiette, topped with a ramp pesto, spring peas, pine nuts, and tendrils ($17) is a clear standout, combining a fragrant, seasonal pesto with perfectly-textured pasta.
Dante’s appeal is simple and classic, yet cool and far from old-fashioned. Take a seat at the dark-wood bar or at a sidewalk table and you’ll feel why it’s survived in New York for 100 years.
BY: TIME OUT COMMUNITY REVIEWER MOLLY TAVOLETTI