Bruschette and antipasti are the stars at this simple, neighborhood favorite for Italian. Despite occasionally absent-minded service, at dell'Anima all 50 seats ultimately feel as if they're at the chef's table.
With high bar tables and a row of counter seating facing the open kitchen, the compact space of dell'Anima packs an impressively active punch. Diners throughout the entire space get an inside look at the process behind the pasta, watching the chefs work their culinary dexterity. The elegant minimalism of the interior almost succeeds in crafting an intimate perspective of Italian food, though the noise level is formidably thundering, with guests effectively shouting across small tables at one another, waiting just a bit too long for their waiter to finally circle back.
While the pastas are fresh and simple, the Tajarin alla Carbonara with guanciale, egg, black pepper, scallions, and pecorino loses much of the creamy richness so special to carbonara with a heavy handed dose of pepper that dramatically overpowers the subtlety of the egg and cured meat. The Gnocchi was actually the favorite pasta dish of my night, with light, heavenly bites of chanterelle mushrooms, caramelized onions, and pine nuts in a creamy sauce topped with the freshest parmesan.
Yet the highlight of any meal at dell'Anima will always be the bruschette, served with an unusual selection of spreads that you apply. Though the cuts of crispy bread were more thick than appropriate, the moist octopus panissa with preserved lemon and the red pepper spreads transform the bruschette into something special. With 3 for $9, it's a phenomenal first snack to begin your meal. Perhaps the best dish on the menu, however, is the Heirloom Tomato Salad, with toasted pine nuts that somehow coax even more flavor out of the hearty slices of bright and juicy tomato, and topped with a mint-ricotta pesto and pickled onion vinaigrette that together make a near perfect bite. In a restaurant that serves a pleasant meal, it was a gratifying surprise that will keep me coming back for more.