Revisiting An Old Friend

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Every so often, I get a little nostalgic—looking at photos from when I still had all my hair, stopping by the old reservoir where I used to get stoned whenever I skipped school, reflecting on erstwhile friends and returning to former haunts and forgotten favorite restaurants. Why did I stop going, anyway? Did I get too busy? Did I start frequenting new, more exciting restaurants? Who knows,sometimes you just grow apart.

With that in mind, I set off to revisit an old friend in the West Village, Piccolo Angolo. This tiny Italian eatery has stood its ground since 1992, even if I haven’t been there to see it.Five years had passed since I last visited this “little corner” on Hudson Street, so I decided to see if we still had anything in common.

Walking into this family-owned restaurant is a bit like entering a Fellini movie, and I mean that in the most loving of ways. It’s filled with quirky but endearing characters with thick Italian accents, and lots of chaos.Owner Renato Migliorini, who runs the restaurant with his son and daughter, serves Northern Italian cuisine from his native Genoa. When we arrived for our 7 p.m. reservation, he welcomed us like family invited to dinner (as he does with everyone).Except that at the end of this meal, we had to pay our family for the food and tip.

Devotees often refer to the food here as “authentic” Italian cuisine.It might be more accurate to say that it’s authentic Italian/American cuisine.Renato’s regional recipes have been somewhat “Americanized,” catering to our idea of Italian food—large portions and heavy seasoning.The complementary basket of garlic bread is not so much bread topped with some garlic as it is chunks of garlic covering an almost incidental piece of bread.By the end of the meal, the pungent oils are oozing from your pores. Back in Italy, seasoning is more subtle and portions are, well, not so American-sized.I lived there for a couple of years, and I remember being regularly chastised by friends whenever I added too much garlic or red pepper to my meal. They’d glare as I over-indulged with the spices, “Che cazzo fai?” Then roll their eyes and sneer, “Americano.”I finally learned better.

When it was time for dessert, Renato came over and recited the selections.However, while we were still mulling over our choices, he decided to take charge. “I bring you the Amaretto Tiramisu, it’s the best,” he declared.

He’s right—it’s absolutely amazing! I asked him if the deserts were made in-house, “They’re flown in fresh every day from Italy,” he exclaimed.

This somehow seemed incredible to me.Everyday, from Italy?He must be joking. My New York cynicism took over.“Really?” I inquired suspiciously. “Yes!” He then disappeared to retrieve the box as proof of his claim.

Though the meat dishes are a bit over salted and some of the pastas have too many competing flavors for my taste, his regular patrons would strongly disagree.They’re fiercely loyal.Even on a cold rainy night, when all other restaurants were empty, this one was packed with Renato’s extended “family.”Ever the consummate host, he also places chairs outside so you can sit during nice weather while waiting for your table to become available.Despite my quibbles about the food, the hearty fare includes standouts like chicken parmigiana, stuffed eggplant, lobster cannelloni and spinach lasagna.

This is a place to come to laugh, let loose, celebrate, have a great time and eat lots of food.OK, so it may not be the best Italian food in the city, but it is without a doubt the friendliest and most welcoming restaurant in New York. I don’t know why I ever stopped going, but I can promise that from now on, I’ll definitely stay in touch.

Piccolo Angolo
621 Hudson St. (at Jane St.)

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