Bessie's Best: Delicious Italian Small Plates and Cocktails at Da Claudio Ristorante in Financial District

One cuisine I don't eat very often is Italian. Even though there's so much of it in New York City, it's something I've never really gotten into. Da Claudio is the restaurant that has made me quite curious about the culinary genre, so I recently set out to explore their offerings.

Da Claudio boasts "a locally sourced seasonal Italian menu and friendly modern aesthetic to one of the oldest streets in New York" according to its website. I think it excels at this and more.

First off, the gnocchi and the charred octopus are my favorites. After trying the gnocchi for the first time during a dinner with friends, I actually went back alone to have it again after work the week after. The portion is generous and punctuated by the flavors of speck, eggplant, asiago, and parmesan cheese. The charred octopus, which is an appetizer that could easily be mistaken for a main, is tender and flavored with fresh herbs and sauces.

The cheese plate is solid, but what shines here are the prepared dishes. Other standouts include bucatini arrabbiata, squid ink linguine (with a quite a helping of head-on prawns), and lasagna.

Also great at Da Claudio are the cocktails, which are creatively executed. The Negroni Da Claudio is a perfect marriage of gin, Italian vermouth, and campari with an aged blood orange as a garnish. They also do a seasonal specials using what would be savory ingredients in food, such as peppercorns, to bring out sweet flavors in the drink mix.

It's hard to find a place like this that hits every note: a hip, elegant, and modern atmosphere with high quality food at a fair price. While a plate of gnocchi will set you back $18 — not cheap — there are easily dozens of other places in the City that charge more for something easily not as good and nowhere as welcoming.

This is an excellent place to go if you have visitors in town who want to visit the World Trade Center area and Wall Street, and you want to take them somewhere away from the normal tourist drag. Da Claudio is a lot less stuffy and pretentious than a lot of similar restaurants, and the crowd is a consistent mix of local professionals and families.

Because the restaurant is so airy, it doesn't get too loud. I appreciate that the restaurant clearly has taken the effort to focus on details, everything from the creativity in the food to the pop art hanging on the walls, to the friendly owner making rounds to check in on diners.

Pro-tip: Weekday nights are a great time to go when it's not too busy. The happy hour offers a list of Italian wines and drinks. Also included is a delectable plate of apertivos, appetizers, that provide a generous sampling of their bread, meat, and cheeses.

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