Villagio Ristorante

Italian at the foot of Central Park makes for a romantic New York outing.


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If you’re looking for good Italian food when in New York City, there’s no need to make a pilgrimage to Little Italy. Villagio on the Park has an extensive and authentic Italian menu with the added benefit of being situated at the edge of one of Manhattan’s most prestigious thoroughfares—Central Park South.

 

Upon entering this cheerful and unpretentious restaurant, we were greeted warmly by the manager and seated at a table looking out onto Central Park South and its promenade of horse-drawn carriages—which may or may not be appealing, depending on your animal politics!

 

 

The ambience is upbeat, and on the summer evening we visited, a little on the loud side—a large group table behind us, a family with three kids next to us. Be sure to book for later in the evening to experience a more romantic vibe. My date (my wife) and I were treated with courtesy and respect by the waiters who were as attentive as they could be on such a busy evening.

 

We were in the mood to celebrate the passage of marriage equality, so we ordered a bottle of pink champagne, which was served in charming monogrammed stemware. The manager suggested we begin our meal with a serving of Gondoletta—homemade pasta dumplings cooked al dente and filled with four cheeses and a little spinach, dressed with a black truffle cream sauce, shaved pecorino, and a garnish of microgreens. Delicious and satisfying, it was the perfect match for our chosen wine.

 

But pasta as an appetizer is for the ravenous; between the fresh bread basket and the hearty antipasti such as the cheese platter with duck prosciutto, hand-dipped ricotta and an assortment of pecorino (fresh walnut and truffle) accompanied by tangerine honey, it’s easy to peak before you get to the carni, pollo, pasta, pesce and pizza.

 

 

When it comes to Italian, two of my passions rule: fresh seafood and wood-fired pizza. So naturally, I ordered the seafood pizza, which was a white pizza abundantly topped with plump shrimp, calamari, scallops and plenty of mozzarella. If you prefer red sauce, go with the classic margherita di bufala, which features zesty tomato sauce, creamy and fresh buffalo mozzarella and fragrant basil.

 

The whole Branzino was served divided and deboned for easy eating, with the head and tail still intact, which it should be in any restaurant serving “una cucina rustica.” Studded with capers and drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice, the fish was moist and buttery. Add a side of steamed greens and you have a delicious, light and healthy choice.

 

I was curious about the linguine del selvaggio, the sauce of which is a mélange of mushrooms, spinach, sundried tomatoes, and fresh mozzarella in olive oil and garlic topped with pecorino cheese, but my stomach wouldn’t stretch that far! We were saving room for dessert. And these were just the meal’s highlights.

 

Tiramisu is something I always order at Italian restaurants. I’m on a quest to find the ultimate, and Villagio’s version is right up there with the best I’ve had. Served not in a sundae glass or as a square sponge cake, it took the form of a cylinder circled with chocolate and garnished with raspberries. My wife had never tried Semifreddo, a classic Italian ice cream flavored with pistachio and cherries, and our spoons fought over the last morsels of it!

 

Another bite could not possibly pass our lips, but when our waiter presented us with two complimentary limoncellos served in pretty Italian glasses we sipped happily and felt very blessed to enjoy such a meal to start summer—and the official era of romance!

 

Information: villagiorestaurants.com

 

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