Mia Dona

by Susan on June 17, 2008

[Food:2.5/5]

Mia Dona had been on my dining “hit list” since it opened in February. A Friday night dinner with my UES-dwelling and Italian-food-loving parents seemed the ideal opportunity to try out Michael Psilakis and Donatella Arpaia’s latest effort.

This is Psilakis and Arpaia’s second Italian collaboration (though they are also partners in Kefi and Anthos), and a more casual reincarnation of its predecessor. Their first Italian, Dona, which opened in 2006, closed after less than a year due to rental woes.

Mia Dona, fashioned like a home, is meant to foster a relaxed atmosphere for a family meal. The three dining areas in the long-and-narrow space are designed as individual residential rooms. We were seated in the would-be library, decorated in light-colored wood and bookshelves. Ironically, the noise level was raucous. Tables are only inches apart and the ceilings are claustrophobically low.

If the Appetizers and Entrees were competing in the Mia Dona Olympics, the first courses would be awarded the gold medal while the Entrees would be lucky to receive the bronze. The disparity between the two courses was so immense that my husband deemed our experience “The Tale of Two Kitchens”.

The Appetizers were well-seasoned and intricate without being fussy.

A Spiedini starter consisted of skewered quail, merguez, sweetbreads, pork involtini, and lamb polpetti. The pork and lamb were memorable, if not triumphant.

Feta cheese and a tangy, piquillo pepper vinaigrette balanced a delicate and tender Grilled Octopus.

Two specials were independently victorious. Tempura fried squash blossoms over grilled romaine was inspired while a crock of creamy and light sheep’s milk cheese served with grilled bread succeeded in its rustic simplicity.

If only our meal had ended when those empty plates were cleared.

For the Entrees, the lack of protein diversity was incredibly disappointing. Chicken Paillard, Hangar Steak, and four fish dishes were the only non-pasta offerings. Where was the veal and lamb I had read so much about? Even the signature rabbit (albeit an appetizer) was conspicuously missing.

Delicate fish was overwhelmed by too many potent accompaniments. Broccoli rabe, sausage, clams, and sundried tomato beleaguered the Roasted Black Bass. Taste buds were assaulted by alternating bites of spice, salt, and bitterness. Even on its own the bass was briny and over-seasoned; as though someone realized the fish had been trumped and tried to shore it up.

Roasted Skate fared slightly better, but paring down the bed of ramps, pancetta, fingerling potatoes, and escarole would have given the well-cooked fish center stage. Instead of allowing the accompanying flavors to complement the fish, the skate had to settle for being merely another accessory on the plate.

Grilled Swordfish, escorted only by delightful cauliflower caponata and crunchy fiddlehead ferns was a step in the right direction. But finally, just when the fish had been given its proper due, it was dry and overcooked.

Surprisingly, the Chicken Paillard, adorned with strawberries, spinach, and bacon, was the table’s best entrée. The moist chicken was pounded to perfection and the sweet and salty components also lent acid, texture, and color.

A side of limp Grilled Asparagus was dressed elegantly with parmesan and lemon.

After the dissatisfying entrees (two of us didn’t even finish our dishes) we almost passed on dessert, but eventually opted for the Apple & Almond Napoleon. While the custard filling was velvety and light, neither the apple nor almond flavors were apparent.

With no entrée over $24, Mia Dona’s prices are reasonable and if everyone at your table orders an Appetizer and no one gets fish, you just might like this place enough to return. For us, the excellent beginning was not enough to overcome the mediocre middle and lackluster ending.

Mia Dona
www.miadona.com
206 East 58th Street
New York, NY 10022
212.750.8170

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