New York Loses a Treasure

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ristorante primavera was one of a kind

by josh perilo

i was heading home from the bodega with a bag of ice cream and beer tucked under my arm when i saw the limo pull up at the end of my block. out stepped mayor bloomberg. just earlier that day he had won the right to run for a third consecutive term and he was clearly out to celebrate.

"congrats, man!" i called out to him as i passed by.

he smiled humbly and ducked into the restaurant in front of him.

i would soon learn that this restaurant was one of his favorites in new york city. it had fast become one of my favorites as well. and after 32 years of caring service and amazing food, the upper east side lost one of its treasures june 30, when ristorante primavera on 82nd street and first avenue closed its doors forever.

nicola civetta opened primavera on june 28, 1978, and it soon became a neighborhood haunt for the wealthy, or those who wanted to pretend they were for an evening. the ambience was pure old-school new york. it was the type of place that conjured images of scorsese movies and echoes of sinatra ballads. forever a holdover from a culinary time gone by, there were no "foams" and "deconstructed entrées" on their menu. this was the land of gigantic, unapologetic slabs of veal and heaping bowls of pasta.

it was also the home to the warmest service i have ever had at any restaurant, ever. while some higher end new york restaurants focus on sterile accuracy and presentation, and others want you to feel like the wait-staff's "bud," primavera simply made you feel like a member of the civetta family. whether you were the ceo of a fortune 500 company, or a meager writer who scraped together enough cash to have a single evening of gluttony, you were always treated like a vip.

the first visit i made was with my wife, natali, for a birthday of mine several years ago. course after course of indulgence was brought to us (many of which we didn't order, but the waiter insisted that we must try). wine flowed, and when the waiter found out that it was my birthday, he brought by complimentary grappa and limoncello for both of us.

the grappa was so good, i asked him if he could tell me the name of the producer. he brought the bottle over to my table, held it above my glass and said, "here it is? perhaps you can read the name better if i tip it a little?"

with that, he tipped the bottle, pouring an enormous second glass of grappa for me, winking at the same time.

this wasn't just the food you wanted to eat when you went to a new york restaurant. these were the waiters you wanted to meet. the owners you wanted to be greeted by. the clientele you wanted to be surrounded with.

the last time we were inside the restaurant was in late may. my wife and i had just witnessed a car accident and the woman from the cab that was struck was panicking. as i dialed 911, standing on the corner of 82nd and first, nicola stuck his head out of the front door of primavera and beckoned us into his restaurant.

"please! come in and sit!"

as i spoke to the operator, nicola, his wife and the bartender talked to the young woman and natali. as the young woman was taken off in an ambulance, nicola ordered natali and me to sit at the bar and have a glass of wine with them. as we left later that evening, feeling warm inside from both the feeling of helping another person and the chianti, nicola beckoned to us.

"please, come and see us again? soon."

"we will!" i said, knowing it would be months before we would be able to afford another visit there.

i am so glad to have had the chance to experience the civetta's wonderful restaurant. i wish them, their family and their staff only the best for the rest of their days. salut.

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