Recommended by a trusted source, this extremely traditional Little Italy trattoria didn’t disappoint. Although the food was simple and simply prepared, I’ve rarely been in as atmospheric an Italian eatery, even in Italy.
It’s on busy Houston Street. Walking in (no reservations here) one is more or less ignored for a minute or two, and then approached by one of the mostly mature male servers and seated politely but without ceremony. It’s a long thin space, apparently with further seating behind the kitchen, with a row of tables down each side of the room, nearly all occupied by groups of middle-aged men. The walls are either many-decades original or an extremely capable faux job, crowded with signed photos of celebrities mugging with Emilio himself. It remained crowded and raucous between 7 and 830 on a Wednesday night, and we felt welcome.
Respectable cocktails arrived. The young waiter who for some reason I took to be a family member was friendly and unprofessionally colloquial, contributing to the no-pressure atmosphere. He helped us find a perfectly nice dolcetta for a reasonable price.
Our starter of grilled octopus was the only culinary missed step, the tentacles tough and a bit burnt, but perfectly flavorful. The mains were outstanding straightup osteria fare, a puttanesca penne perfectly rendered with traditional Mediterranean ingredients, and then a tender roast chicken special surrounded by slices of fennel sausage redolent with a beautifully understated reduction. Very nice food all of a piece with feeling like a chunk of Liguria had been loaded on a scow in 1900 and plonked in what is now called Nolita, expatriately marinating ever since.
Toward the end of our meal, a couple of pairs of twentysomething girls flounced in and sat down, behind us was an older New York anglo family, elsewhere two to five men mostly in white shirts talking loud and drinking expensive Italian red, and just opposite a lone very obese bearded elderly man who fell asleep at his table.
With the brutal Canadian exchange rate this dinner wasn’t cheap, but this is after all Manhattan and we weren’t bothering to check prices.
We were treated like regulars and there was never a hint of arrogance or affectation. As we stepped out the door part of me expected to be on the cobblestones in Genoa. Highly recommended for the kind of experience I’ve described. Food 8.5, service 8.7, ambience 9.5, value 7.1.