Restaurants in New York come and go. So usually when there’s one that’s endured for more than 30 years, it’s worth taking note.
Villa Mosconi is such a place. It was started by a tight band of seven siblings from Italy. Don’t look for trendy here. It’s the antithesis of—and perhaps maybe also the antidote—to the hype of the moment.
Small plates? Forget it. The portions are gigantic, and are served in deep dishes that feel like bottomless wells. Brussels sprouts and kale, no. Broccoli rabe and escarole, yes. And there’s not even delivery available (yet).
What you get instead is satisfying old-fashioned charm, the kind that feels (almost) lost to a bygone era. Regulars are fussed over like family. John Ross, or “Red,” 82, has been walking over every day from his home on Sullivan Street since 2000—he sits at the bar as though he owns the place. And indeed, he’s often mistaken for the boss.
And in turn, regulars fuss over the staff as if they were their own family, too. A couple once brought in an opera singer as a surprise to the staff. Opera Night has since become a yearly tradition, minus the surprise, of course.
In its heyday, Villa Mosconi was a darling of the Wall Street and finance crowd. And it didn’t go unnoticed by A-listers who have come in (heavily disguised). A credit to his profession, co-manager Jerry Leonardi won’t let the word get out about the celebrities looking for some anonymity. What happens at the restaurant stays at the restaurant.
The food hasn’t changed much either—and it’s a good thing. How much can you fiddle with pasta?
Pietro Mosconi, the longtime chef, makes fresh pasta worth returning for again and again. He uses a Toresani machine from Milan to churn out sheets of pasta, and it is so old it could be considered an antique. “This machine is a really excellent machine,” said Mosconi, who esteems it as much as a collector would. “They don’t make them like that anymore.”
“When there’s too much sophistication, you cannot change things,” he added. The numbers on the dial that control the thickness have all but vanished. But it doesn’t matter. Mosconi could make pasta with eyes closed. He has been doing this for so long he does it by feel.
He holds up a sheet of pasta, still so fresh and soft that its folds are reminiscent of those in the dresses chiseled in Renaissance sculptures. “It’s so beautiful,” he said.
The spinach dough, in particular, is almost translucent. It’s elegantly marbleized, with streaks of dark green running against a light green background, like handcrafted Florentine paper.
“It’s all about confidence, you know,” he added.
He works like a master craftsman, neither fast nor slow, shaping pasta that will find new incarnations as agnolotti, taglierini, ravioli, cannelloni, tortellini, and fettuccine.
Almost all of the entree pastas at Villa Mosconi consist of freshly made pasta, six days a week.
If there’s one to try, it’s the Paglia e Fieno (literally straw and hay in Italian) ($15). Thin strands of egg dough pasta and spinach pasta are intermixed, bound together by cream, lots of cream (lots more than there is in the photo here, actually), and with the simple and perfect additions of peas and pancetta. It’s hard to imagine a better comfort food.
You can also ask for a pasta sampler, which is a good way to taste Peter Mosconi’s pasta creations: Agnolotti, from the family’s native Emilia-Romagna, filled with chicken steak. Manicotti stuffed with ricotta cheese; gnocchi with pesto; spinach fettuccine with bolognese sauce. (Pasta dishes range between $14 and $17 at dinner; and for lunch average around $13–$14)
Finish off with the housemade desserts, such as tiramisu or the Italian cheesecake—if you have any space left after all that delicious pasta. Most desserts range between $8.50 and $9.50.
There are three separate dining rooms at Villa Mosconi, besides the bar at the entrance. If you have a chance and in warmer weather, opt for the Four Seasons Garden room out back. This undiscovered gem has the feel of a secret garden.
69 MacDougal St. (near Houston St.)
Monday–Saturday noon–11 p.m.