Special thanks again to guest contributor, Frank Visco (aka "Frankie Knuckles"), who shares a recent NYC dining experience with us . This time he's joined by his culture-vulture counterpart, "Handsome Eddie", aka Ed Gandorf, aka "Chip"! Read on for a fantastic account of their dinner at Il Violino...
We took a day trip to Manhattan to see the new production of "Das Rheingold" at the Metropolitan Opera on Thursday, September 30.
Arriving at Lincoln Center at 4 pm from Loudonville by Yankee Trails/Siena Opera Club bus, and expecting torrential rains, we were prepared with fold-up umbrellas and sack-pack rain jackets. Instead, we found balmy, humid, tropical weather, and decided to roam the neighborhood.
Strolling north on Amsterdam, then east to Columbus, we criss-crossed the sixties (in a literal, not metaphysical sense), reading posted menus as we went.
Although we have contacts in the city, and experience living and working there, we decided to be adventuresome and not depend on recommendations or past history. It was a day to explore, and perhaps find something as new and promising as the avant garde production of the classic opera we would be attending that night.
The area a few blocks north of Lincoln Center has many choices. We weren't rushed for time. Price was a minor consideration, but quality was definitely the key to the search. It finally came down to a choice between a French restaurant on the lower level of a brownstone on 68th, east of Columbus, and an Italian restaurant at the northwest corner of 68th and Columbus. The friend with neither of those nationalities in his heritage chose the Italian establishment.
Couldn't have been a better choice.
The restaurant: Il Violino, at 180 Columbus, had opened for dinner at its usual time, 4 pm, but even an hour later, when we showed up, the place was empty, and the gracious staff seated us in the glassed-in porch, on the 68th street side. The walls were lined with Metropolitan Opera posters. We took that as a good omen.
Wood floors, uncluttered white walls and brick in the bar area, combined with open areas of the wrap-around porch give the place a clean, elegant feeling.
The wine list - one of the first items of inspection - proved to be reasonable and accommodating, both in selection of wines and in price. Oftentimes a wine list can be overbearing, with such a profusion of choices and price ranges that it becomes a major event just to select a bottle. Here, the wine list was clear and straightforward....essentially, one selection for each major varietal or type you might choose...four or five selections each in sparkling, whites and reds, all reasonable priced for NYC. Ed selected a fine Nero d'avola, a smooth, rich red wine from Sicily that complemented both of our entree selections.
The waiter recited the evening's specials, and Frankie Knuckles' eyes lit up when he heard the pasta was homemade orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe, and Handsome Eddie chose - after a period of indecision amongst more than a few selections - the pappardelle a la Bolognese. All of Il Violino's pastas are homemade, and these two were prepared al dente, the preferred consistency of true pasta lovers.
The crusty slices of fresh Italian bread were served with those little pats of foil-wrapped butter, but we asked for and received “Italian butter” – flavorful olive oil, served in a small cup with a spoon for drizzling on the bread.
We took our time with the salads, weren't rushed, and by the time we were ready for the pasta, the restaurant began to fill up, with a 50-50 mix of tourists and locals. It's always comforting to know that the restaurant you've chosen is a neighborhood favorite.
Generous helpings of delicious pasta challenged Ed & Frank's appetites, but our appetites won the day.
Frank’s entrée was fragrant and piquant with the intermingling of the homemade sausage and broccoli rabe. The spices and earthiness of the sausage were offset by the bite of the rabe, and cradled by the half-shells of the orecchiette. A mix of textures, combined with the mix of flavors, guaranteed a full, satisfying entrée.
Ed’s entrée was served in a heaping mound of aromatic Bolognese, supported by the wide, thin pappardelle noodles interwoven throughout. A thick, meaty sauce – it was almost a shame to label it as a sauce, given the density and richness of the Bolognese. Definitely not your mother’s meat sauce (at least, not my mother’s) of some ground beef thrown into a tomato sauce, this was hearty fare yet with a complexity of flavors – meat and garlic against a sparing backdrop of thick tomato…and, as we later found out, a few secret ingredients. The pappardelle was perfect for such a deeply flavorful dish, adding its own subtle yet substantial flavors.
After we shared a disappointing slice of dry cheesecake, which seemed a little overbaked or past its prime, and cups of full-strength cappuccini, , the waiter brought a complimentary pair of glasses of limoncello (not homemade, but chilled to the right temperature), which was followed by a visit from the young chef himself, the Cipriani-trained Nelson Slavichay, who recited the ingredients of both pasta sauces. We found out that the sausage for Frank’s dish was made on premises, as were both of the pastas. And, Slavichay imparted the secret of the Bolognese – after the meat was sauteed, butter and cheese were added to melt into and form the base of the Bolognese, before adding the tomato and spices. THAT tip went into Ed’s cookbook!
The total, including tax, for the bottle of wine, two salads, two pasta entrees, one cheesecake and two cappuccini was just over $130 before tip.
In Ed’s view – a well-recommended restaurant for – if not absolutely authentic le italiano – some of the best Italian-American in the area, set in comfortable and pleasant environs.
Il Violino is open for lunch Monday through Friday from Noon to 4; Dinner 7 days a week from 4 to Midnight, and weekend brunch from Noon to 4. Major Credit Cards. Online at: