My favorite Italian restaurant, Spirito di Vino, is tucked away in the alleyways of the Trastevere neighborhood in Rome. It is a family run restaurant - the owner runs the restaurant, the wife of the owner cooks the food, and their son - in typical young Italian guy attire of tight pants, dress shirt and fancy sunglasses - is the sommelier.
Not only was the food excellent (I distinctly remember a fabulous orange and cheese salad and their famous cold crème brulée), Romeo, the owner, took us down to the wine cellar once and told us about the history of the restaurant. Part of the restaurant is actually an old synagogue, and during reconstruction, they found a statue which is now at the Vatican Museum.
Even more than the food I really enjoyed the familiarity and comfort of being there. Romeo remembered us the second time we went there and every time after that. He would recommend dishes to us and make sure we were having a good time. It was like going to an old relative's house for dinner. Sprito di Vino was the only place in Rome that I ever ate all four courses (appetizer, pasta (primi), meat (secondi) and dessert).
I've been trying to find an equivalent here in New York City and nothing has come close until recently.
Locanda Vini e Olii is tucked away on the corner of a residential street in Brooklyn. You wouldn't go there unless you knew about it because, chances are, you wouldn't be passing by it on the street. Plus, you wouldn't know it was a restaurant since the old "Lewis Drugs" sign still adorns the front of the building.
The old pharmacy feel is still apparent inside of the restaurant - dark wood cabinets with vintage knickknacks, a step ladder leaning against the wall, the prescription counter sign sitting in front of the kitchen window. I felt transported to another time. I thought it was so great that, even though they renovated this old pharmacy into a restaurant, there were still traces of the building's history.
One of the owners greeted us and told us it would be 4 minutes for a table (so exact!) and we ended up having a nice little conversation before we sat down, and I thought that maybe he could be the Romeo of New York.
Their menu changes daily so the freshest ingredients can be used. Of note, the crostini appetizer (four with different toppings of tomato & basil, zucchini, mushroom, and chicken pâté - which I didn't know I even liked!), the black pepper pici (thicker than spaghetti and slurpy like udon) with porcini mushrooms, and the crème caramel, which rivaled Spirito di Vino's crème brulée.
We also sampled a lemon cake with pistachio cream. The desserts (except for the crème caramel) were placed on a small side table near one of the cabinets. When we were finished with our pasta, our waiter came over with the large dessert plates stacked on his forearms for us to choose from. How cool is that?
Though I enjoyed my meal at Locanda Vini e Olii, Spirito di Vino is still my favorite Italian restaurant. But there's one thing about my experience here in New York that I never encountered in Rome.
In between our appetizers and our main meal, a group of five people walked in and who was bringing up the rear you ask?
Keri Russell and her newborn in a sling!
Being a huge fan of celebrity sightings, I was immediately star struck. I started whispering over and over again to my boyfriend (while maintaining a casual smile to avoid looking like I noticed her), "Keri Russell just walked in," to which he replied "Who?"
"You know! From Felicity and she was just in that movie Waitress!"
We were both amazed that she had come all the way to this restaurant - to this particular part of Brooklyn, where if you walk one street West and one street South, you would be standing on the corner where Biggie Smalls used to sell crack.
Spirito Di Vino
Via dei Genovesi 31 A/B
Vicolo Dell'Atleta 13/15
00153 Roma - Trastevere Ripa
Locanda Vini e Olii
129 Gates Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11238
Tel: (718) 622-9202