Andalusian chef Dani García has returned to establish a beachhead in Manhattan nine years after his first attempt, Manzanilla. That was in 2013. A member of Spain’s Scientific and Technical School of Cookery, Mr. García was best known at the time for introducing liquid nitrogen to the kitchen in edible fabrications like the tomato garden, three stubby orbs that looked like miniature tomatoes but weren’t. One was made from beets.
Spherification, the process developed at El Bulli to enclose drops of olive juice or other liquids in a small, flimsy sac that opens into the mouth, apparently to the delight of the owner of the mouth, was widely used in Manzanilla. The desserts showed delicious temperature and weightlessness effects that would be difficult to achieve without gels, powders and gas-filled canisters. The menu was new enough to fill Manzanilla with curious diners for several months. A year later, with business lagging, the restaurant closed.
The new house of Mr. García, Casa Dani, sits in Manhattan West, this oddly urban development between Hudson Yards and the James A. Farley Post Office. Eating there now, you would never know that locking liquid in small, flimsy bags was one thing, or that Mr. García had ever participated in it. Traditional Spanish cuisine, especially Andalusian seafood, is wall-to-wall. All innovations are subtle.
A result is a menu that is much, much easier to trust. In Manzanilla, just about every other dish was worth trying. At Casa Dani, almost everything is.
There are salt cod fritters, which look and taste like they’ve just come out of the fryer at a beach bar in Malaga. Breaded and fried noodles, those long white creatures identifiable as fish mainly by the two black dots in their eyes, are also served here, thrown by a waiter at the table with two fried eggs and red pepper pilpil to make a dish complete and irresistible. disorder.
Octopus stacked on an Andalusian potato salad, that mainstay of tapas bars, shows up here too, bright with sherry vinegar and almost red with smoked chili oil.
Golden croquetas topped with a slice of jamón ibérico can look like delicate appetizers likely to be passed over at polite cocktail parties. One bite and they spring out of a hot and delicious béchamel.
If you want a safer way to eat jamón ibérico, consider the appetizer of lightly seared artichoke hearts in a creamy ham emulsion that becomes increasingly flavorful as it mingles with the ribbons of ham in the center of the plate.
The original candidate for spherification, and probably the most common during the heyday of Spanish scientific cuisine, was olive juice. Ten years ago, Mr. García might have offered us olive spheres with Casa Dani’s exceptional anchovies – both oil-dried black and purplish ones and vinegar-marinated white ones. Now he serves olive juice as olive juice, a brackish green bath for fish.
If you spend enough time among Casa Dani’s appetizers, sooner or later you’ll stumble upon fresh Andalusian tuna: a shimmering sheet of rosy belly laid on the thinnest, crispiest pan con tomate in New York; lean loin and belly fat chopped and molded side by side into a fresh, two-tone ring; the meaty meat just below the head, freed at the table from the salt crust in which it was cooked. (The menu translates morrillo de atún, the Spanish name for this rich, gooey morsel, as “front-cut tuna.”) Visitors to Madrid have seen at least one location of a ham-focused chain called Museo del Jamón. Casa Dani could easily be renamed Museo del Atún.
At first glance, Casa Dani appears to be in competition with Mercado Little Spain, José Andrés’ food hall in Hudson Yards, which also leans towards traditional cuisine. But Mercado Little Spain has nothing to do with the regional depth reflected in these Andalusian tuna recipes. And the place is a bit of a scavenger hunt, where the best things to eat are scattered among a maze of kiosks, counters, bars and take-out boxes. Mr. García’s restaurant is also more rewarding, dish for dish, than any part of Mercado Little Spain, including its two more formal dining rooms, Leña and Mar.
In a paella kitchen, Leña’s wood-burning grill probably gives her an edge over Casa Dani’s gas burners. But Mr. García’s rice dishes are excellent, as they were in Manzanilla. The grains are swirled and toasted in a wide, shallow pan. Then they are persuaded to absorb only enough liquid to make them chewy. The toppings – aioli and octopus in the case of the black rice – are there mainly for the contrast they provide. As with any good paella, the point is the rice.
One pan is enough to make a main dish for four people. On the other hand, these four people might consider the possibility of a whole fish, say a whole Spanish turbot, crossed with a wooden skewer and grilled.
The desserts are, of course, the ones you see in taverns and cafes all over Spain: flan, rice pudding, berry torrijas. Most are comforting pillows of sugar and milk. The exception is cheesecake, which is almost as salty as it is sweet, even before a wedge of Zamorano or other aged Spanish cheese is grated onto the plate. Those of us who find it hard to choose between a dessert and a cheese dish can now have both at the same time.
Since Manzanilla closed, Mr. García seems to have figured out how to control a transatlantic kitchen. Service is another story. Dinner can go smoothly one night and become disjointed another, when nothing and no one shows up at the table at the right time.
Service issues seem symptomatic of greater confusion. It’s unclear whether Casa Dani, owned by Mr. García’s company with Disruptive Restaurant Group, which owns clubs, restaurants and caviar bars in Doha, Dubai, Seoul and Cancún, wants to be an adult destination. The prices definitely say yes. But you don’t enter from the street or even from Manhattan West Plaza, but from a food court that has the impersonal, shiny, unreal feeling of a movie set in the near future. The kiosks, which share a single kitchen, are called things like Krispy Rice and Sam’s Crispy Chicken, and the whole business has a name, Citizenson “1984”.
Past the Casa Dani (“Spanish-Mediterranean-Fresh”) entrance, the color palette changes from blacks and grays to browns and reds, but it doesn’t feel real, especially once the music starts pounding. It turns out that some remixes of “Ray of light” last a very long time – long enough that I started thinking about all the restaurants that seem to be for people who travel from continent to continent, eating only dishes designed by chefs who consider themselves to be global brands. You could leave New York on Tuesday night, and when you show up for dinner in Doha on Wednesday, “paper planeswill play again in the dining room: “All I want is boom boom boom boom and Cha Ching! take your money.”
What do the stars mean Due to the pandemic, restaurants are not rated by stars.