There are a few things we wish New York had more of. Clean subways, 80 degree weather without 100% humidity, and beaches that don’t look like the establishing shot of an E! True Hollywood Story. We also wish there were more new restaurants that genuinely surprised us. Not by flambeeing dishes tableside or by sabering bottles of vintage champagne, but with subtlety. Places where you notice new, unexpected things each time you visit. Basically, we wish we had more places like Davelle.
Davelle is an all-day Japanese restaurant that’s about the size of a studio apartment you’d find in this part of the Lower East Side. There are three small tables and eight seats at a bar, which shifts from serving coffee to wine and sake as the day goes on. Like the one-room space, the food seems fairly straightforward at first glance. But sit down here for dinner, and you’ll find that every dish is packed with intense, unusual flavors that make you think through your food vocabulary like those kids on stage at the national spelling bee.
It’s hard to believe that one or two people cooking in such a small space produce such a varied menu, ranging from small plates like tender, lemony fried chicken to entrees like rich, smoky pork curry to a number of Japanese spaghetti dishes unlike anything else you’ll find in New York. One is cooked in ketchup and soy sauce (a combo that’s popular in Japan and works impressively well), and another is topped with so much uni that eating it feels like when a wave knocks you down and rolls you along the ocean floor, but without the whole losing your bathing suit thing. And these dishes only make up half the menu.
Davelle also specializes in oden, comprised of small bowls of dashi broth with your choice of ingredients like daikon or fried octopus. They’re all about $4 and are a nice, light complement or alternative to the intensely-flavored entrees. The broth is held in what looks like an espresso machine on the bar, and it constantly changes as it simmers and new ingredients are added. So not only is the food here different from just about every other spot around, but order the same oden here two days in a row, and the flavors will be different each time.
We’d understand if such a small spot making this quality and variety of food treated everything else as an afterthought, but the surprises here go beyond the food. The wine list, for example, only has about 10 options, but all of them are natural wines under $60, including a couple pet-nats (lightly sparkling, cloudy-looking wines that are often pretty funky). To devote a quarter of an already tiny wine list to a polarizing style that lots of people have never heard of is just one of the unexpected details that make this place special and different.
The acoustics are a mix of Marvin Gaye, Ray Charles, and stories from the chef/owner about growing up in Hokkaido. With the old mirror over the fireplace and the dried flowers hanging on the brick walls, Davelle feels more like the den in a brownstone than a new restaurant on the LES. We’re surprised. Now we just need to figure out the subways and beaches. And weather.
Like a fine wine or your choice in significant others, this just improves with time. The broth has been continuously cooking since the restaurant opened, and it constantly changes as it simmers and takes on flavors from new ingredients as they’re mixed in. Each dish is surprisingly filling, especially considering they’re all around $4. A couple of our favorites are the thick, heart-shaped daikon and the tender fried octopus (both pictured below).
This is nothing like the potato salad your aunt brought over during summer BBQs. It’s super dense, and served cold with some truffle oil. It’s good, but it’s very heavy, so we’d only recommend this if you can share it with a group.
This one is easy: if you like uni, this is a must-order. If you don’t like uni, don’t get this. They say that this has 10 pieces worth of uni sushi in it. We can’t verify that, but we can say that this warm sphere of rice and sea urchin is one of the best $13 dishes we’ve had in a long time.
These are some really tender bites of fried chicken that aren’t overly fried and come with very good mayo on the side. Again, it’s a lot of food for the price ($12), and you will not regret having this on your table.
We’re in the camp that thinks there’s no such thing as too much uni, so the fact that every bite of this pasta tastes like taking a water balloon filled with ocean water to the face is enjoyable to us. If that sounds enjoyable to you too, then you need to eat this.
This spaghetti is cooked in a sauce with ketchup, soy sauce, bacon, onions, and lots of black pepper. This is good in small doses and the yolk from the over-easy egg on top adds some flavor and texture, but it’s a little too ketchup-y, and you should go with the uni spaghetti instead.
Like a lot about Davelle, this dish doesn’t give you reason to think you’re in for anything special, only to completely surprise you. It just looks like a bowl of soup, but there are bits of delicious rich minced pork, and it gets spicier and smokier the more you eat.