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January 19, 2006 - by Richard Jay Scholem
Very few restaurants are around long enough to celebrate their 30th anniversary. The restaurant business in New York City is too competitive and volatile for that. Yet Villa Mosconi, the quintessential Greenwich Village Italian, is doing just that. An eating place that withstands the test of time for three decades, especially in a restaurant hot spot like the Village, has to have a lot going for it, and Villa Mosconi does.
First and foremost there is Peter Mosconi, the restaurant’s chef and owner who, with his five sisters, came to this country in 1966, and after gaining NYC experience cooking at Romeo Salta, Giambelli, and other local spots, opened the family-owned Villa Mosconi ten years later.
Mr. Mosconi, who recently received the Chef’s de Cuisine Association’s Gold Medal as Chef of the Year, prepares rustic, earthy, full-flavored dishes, and still rises early each morning to select quality ingredients from the city’s markets. His menu lists basic, no-nonsense Italian favorites like ravioli, spaghetti and meatballs, fried calamari, and veal parmigiana and marsala, while the specials of the day offer diners more creative fare.
Mr. Mosconi’s efforts are augmented by an eager-to-please, veteran waitstaff (when I called the restaurant while caught in traffic during the transit strike they said, “Take your time, we’re not going anywhere. We’ll have a nice solid drink waiting for you.”)
Villa Mosconi’s long run can also be attributed to its honesty. Its portions are large, its prices are downright modest (pastas start at $11.25 and entrées at $14.50), and while the waiters at many restaurants recite their specials—practically daring diners to ask how much they cost—Villa Mosconi writes them out with prices and posts them on every table. The restaurant’s looks are predictable for a longtime Village hangout: a store front with white table cloths, original old-world art, low ceilings, and flickering candles.
Specials that lived up their name were the floppy, tasty, homemade cheese-filled ravioli; sturdy polenta wedges with large, wide slices of spicy, offsetting sausage; tasty, towering short ribs on a bed of savory spinach; and, most of all, a plate of wild boar and gnocchi in a heady, robust brown sauce.
The regular menu also produced some stellar picks, including a huge baked artichoke with a mellow stuffing, thin tender veal piccata in a puckery butter-lemon sauce, and simply grilled, knowingly seasoned lamb chops.
Straightforward sweets included a standard rum cake, feathery tiramisu, a basic ice cream, pears, and chocolate syrup concoction, and warm, soothing zabaglione.
While the core of Villa Mosconi’s clientele remains its regulars, celebrities like Frank Sinatra, the Kennedys, the Rockefellers, Ed Sullivan, and Brad Pitt also have been attracted to this warm, welcoming Village institution.
69 Macdougal St. btw. Bleecker & Houston Sts., 212-673-0390
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