Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Villagio On The Park: An Italian With “A Little Something Extra”!

By: Anne M. Raso

I recently ventured out for dinner in Villagio On The Park (the former site of the longstanding Mickey Mantle's). In a chic spot with a view of Central Park, I expected small portions and outlandish prices but I got just the opposite. If you dig down-home Italian in giant portions that you can share (even though it's not a "family style" restaurant) and waiters that bring you "extras," you must try Villagio. It's the golden combination of quality AND quantity! The affable David Fuentes planned out what I was going to try (as opposed to letting me order) and I was very glad about it. I got some of his favorite dishes to try and a secret dessert that was not really on the menu that night! I loved the light airy feeling of the Villagio space--the floor to ceiling windows in front are open when the weather's nice, so diners have the choice of dining al fresco, "half in and half out" or totally indoors. Dozens of modern clear cube shaped lamps hang from the ceiling and the speckled marble modern bar has a clean, chic look.

The first item that came to our table was complimentary red onion and fresh rosemary focaccia bread (simply known as House Focaccia) that all diners get besides regular Italian rolls. The dough was freshly made and was cooked to golden perfection. I could easily have binged on this luscious item, but I wanted to save room for what was to come. The staff wanted me to try some of their super tender pasta, so they brought me Gondoletta ($22), which must have this name because they are kind of shaped like gondolas! The pasta layer is soft and cooked to the perfect degree of tenderness, and it’s stuffed with four homemade cheeses and spinach. It is tossed with a light truffle cream sauce before serving. This is one of the best pasta dishes I have had in the last ten years in Manhattan, so I can’t recommend it highly enough. To my great joy, the next item out of the kitchen was Fiore Di Zucca, which is a dish of six large zucchini flowers stuffed with smoked mozzarella and prosciutto ($21). This is a delicacy that is hard to come by even in Manhattan's most authentic Italian restaurants, and they serve it with Villagio's wonderful homemade super-chunky marinara sauce on the side. The hot mozzarella oozed out of the orange zucchini blossoms and the prosciutto was tender and thinly sliced. I would go back to Villagio just for this one dish.
Lombata Parmigiana
The entree chosen was Lombata Parmigiana ($32), which is a flattened veal chop sautéed with sliced Portobello mushrooms in a Marsala wine sauce. Keep in mind that the picture shown here is one portion split in half! The total portion is at east 18 ounces, and the tender veal chop is super-tender thanks to not only being prime meat but because it is pounded before being breaded. The veal is pretty classic parmigiana style, but you almost do not need a knife to cut it. On the side are golden sliced potatoes with a little truffle oil on them and freshly steamed broccoli.
Fiore Di Zucca
Our dessert was something super-special and highly Southern Italian--Pera Zabaglione ($12). This is something that the restaurant is becoming legendary for and you might want to call ahead to see if they will be serving it on the night you intend to go to Villagio. These are pairs poached in Marsala and served with cinnamon-tinged zabaglione cream. I love the fact that general manager Fuentes makes limoncello with his own two hands down basement level of Villagio and then places it in their giant cooler. He admits that he is a freak when it comes to shaving the rinds of 100 lemons at a time to make each batch, which ferment for at least two weeks before getting served as a complimentary end of meal treat for everyone who sets foot inside this lovely, airy restaurant.

Villagio welcomes whole families, and the staff bends over backwards to deal with food preferences, diets and allergies. It’s a great place to take a fussy family or visitors from out of town—or is simply the place to go when you want either North or Southern Italian created authentically! Mickey Mantle’s old place has gone from “The Mick” to minestrone, but we think if he were still around, he would go eat at Villagio!

40 Park Avenue South
New York, NY 10019
(212) 369-4000
Cuisine: Italian

Villagio on the Park on Urbanspoon

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