To quote Dave Matthews, “turns out not where but who you’re with that really matters.” Dave is right on so many levels, but sometimes a great Italian dinner with even better company can make for a wonderful night.
I’m rarely on the Upper East Side, fancying myself a Westside dweller, but on a Wednesday night, the first one that finally feels like Spring — I ventured crosstown to meet Brett for dinner. Vivolo is warm and homey, an old townhouse converted into an old school Italian restaurant. The restaurant occupies the first two floors of the townhouse, but on this particular night the second floor was closed for a private event. The first floor space is narrow with single tables lining the right side of the restaurant adjacent to the dark wooden bar.
The clientele is that stereotypical Upper East Side mix: friends treating themselves to a delicious night out, young couples getting lost in each others eyes, older friends who have likely been regulars since the place opened in 1977. I’ve always secretly wanted a large Italian family (mainly for the food) and the staff at Vivolo literally welcomes you into their home and into their kitchen. (I’m talking to you Carmine).
We started our meal with a bottle of sauvignon blanc before diving into the menu. I have a weakness for all things cheese, but there’s a particular soft spot in my heart for burrata.
Simple is best. A creamy half of burrata sat on top of a bed of blistered cherry tomatoes with a drizzle of sweet and savory balsamic glaze. It’s rich, it’s simple, it’s delicious.
My other Italian food weakness, Caesar salad. The Seamless delivery men from Coppola’s on the Upper West Side are far too aware of my love for the crisp pieces of lettuce, the salty anchovy dressing, the slivers of parmesan cheese with crunchy croutons on top. And with the trendiness of Kale (I’m trying to deny the fact that its popularity is on a mild decline), I couldn’t resist a Kale Caesar.
The crunchy kale leaves wilt slightly underneath the unusually light caesar dressing. Gone are the days of the thick, mayo-like dressings of Caesar salads past. Instead, the refreshing version with the dark green kale, a mild sprinkling of salty parmesan and a few croutons scattered on top makes for a delightful appetizer. One might say it was a really solid salad.
For the main course, we ordered off menu to try their version of my favorite food — eggplant parm.
We probably should have stuck to the menu, since this was probably the most disappointing dish of the night. The dish was a little cold, which caused the breaded eggplant to taste a little soggy. The sauce was a highlight rich and complex in flavor, but even that when served luke warm couldn’t quite save the dish. (We did finish the entire thing).
The pasta, however, was a star.
There’s something so irresistible about fresh pasta — the inconsistency in shape and size is somehow far more luring then its generic counterparts. Cooked al dente, the pasta was coated in a light sauce that was there to simply elevate the sweet and savory variety of mushrooms. A fresh sprinkling of parmesan went on top (post-picture taking) adding a subtle saltiness that I love.
For dessert, we had to have some cake by the ocean — and by that I mean cheesecake inside a restaurant.
I always love a little dessert at the end of a dinner, but don’t have such a sweet tooth. A good savory cheesecake is something special. This version was good, not great — but it did the trick for something really sweet to end the meal. The drizzle of caramel sauce underneath the cake added a little sweetness that was actually kind of necessary.
But the real treat to end the meal was when the lovely manager, Carmine came around to chat with us, offering another glass of wine to stay and extend the already long meal (in the best way possible). As the restaurant emptied, we never felt forced to get up and leave — it’s a gesture of feeling like you’re part of the family there — the true sign of a great, homey Italian spot.
Vivolo – 140 East 74th Street – New York, NY
Location: Upper East Side
Perfect For: Authentic Dining, Casual Meal, First Dates
Reservations: Recommended via OpenTable
Favorite Dishes: Burrata, Kale Caesar Salad, Pappardelle with Mushrooms