Eating dairy-free: A night at one of New York’s newest Italian restaurants

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Having a dairy allergy makes eating out a near-constant battle.

Increasing availability of vegan options has helped over recent years, but certain cuisines still prove difficult to cater for, particularly Italian food.   

On a recent hunt for an Italian meal that didn’t come from one of the identikit restaurants situated in New York’s Little Italy, we came across DIA, a nine-month-old casual Italian restaurant in the East Village.

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Located on 2nd Ave, DIA offers quintessential Italian flavours with the feel of a home-y restaurant while also managing to fit in perfectly with the East Village’s grungier feel. The young restaurant may reinvigorate a traditional cuisine with its modern flair, but how would it fare with a dietary challenge so contrary to many Italian dishes?

After sitting down at one of DIA’s outdoor tables, we ordered mussels and roasted octopus to start.

The octopus at DIA

Moments later, we were shaking hands with owner Vincenzo Roccisano, who personally brought out fresh warm focaccia. 

According to Roccisano, the mouthwatering olive oil drizzled on top is made specially for him from hand-picked olives in Italy. 

The mussels were one of the best dishes of the night

The flavour difference between the $12 olive oil we use at home and this one was definitely noticeable. 

DIA’s $17 octopus dish is good but not hugely distinctive, however, the mussels were delicious and came accompanied with a broth that perfectly complemented the seafood. 

With broth left over, Roccisano brought us more focaccia to dip in. 

For our main courses, we ordered two dishes: the highly recommended carbonara (for our dairy-eating companion) and the braised lamb neck with truffle polenta and carrots. 

Considering polenta is typically made with butter, we asked for the dish polenta-free. Instead, we were served a dairy-free version of the Northern Italian staple, which was impressive.

A lamb neck came with dairy-free polenta

The carbonara was perfectly al dente 

Another highlight of the meal was the lamb, with the neck providing enough food for at least two more people once we’d eaten all we could. 

While we couldn’t try the carbonara ourselves, our dining partner said it was rich, creamy and cheesy, and the pasta was perfectly al dente.

The meal ended with the classic Italian dessert of tiramisu and tea. While we did not partake in the pastry, our dining partner highly complimented the combination of mascarpone, hazelnut and coffee flavours. 

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Having eaten at hundreds of restaurants in New York City, it is rare for a new restaurant to land on its feet so quickly and land among our top 20 favourites, but DIA has managed.