Saturday, March 10, 2012

Getting It Right

De Stefano's Italian Cafe
6825 San Pedro Avenue
(just south of Oblate)

Almost a year ago, I happened across a new Italian restaurant that had taken the space long occupied by Luigi's. It was a vast improvement over its predecessor, but good as it was, it didn't last. Its place has now been taken by yet another — and better still — Italian restaurant. 

Giuseppe de Stefano has all the right credentials, having grown up in a Calabrian family in New York, where God goes for good Eye-talian food on his increasingly rare visits to the City. (Calabria, for those not familiar with Italy, is the second-best part of that country, after Sicily. Ad ogni acìeddu suo nido è bìeddu. New York, I guess, would be the third-best part.) Even a stint cooking in Dallas was unable to drain the skill from his stirring hand. 

I went to De Stefano's for lunch a week and a half ago, and was impressed with the stuffed green peppers that were one of the day's specials. They were, honestly, better than my grandmother's. Tonight, I went there for dinner, and was impressed again.

The interior is largely unchanged from before; a smallish dining room with a curving bar at the back, with a larger private dining room off to the side. On this occasion, that room was used to provide live music for diners, in the form of a man singing to the accompaniment of a karaoke machine. Having him in that location, where he was visible and audible but separated, was a wise choice: it kept his performance from being too much a part of the overall experience of the evening, a background soundtrack that added interest but didn't insist on diners' attention. Still, it seemed a little weird, and it effectively rendered that dining room unusable. But no doubt when de Stefano's business gets to the point of needing that space, they will find a less obtrusive means of providing a pleasant aural atmosphere.

Our server made it a point of telling us that they were short-staffed because of the start of Spring Break. Why he would bring it up is a mystery; it certainly didn't seem to cause any degradation of service, which was prompt, accurate and pleasant. If anything about the service could be faulted, it would have to be the too-eager attempts at mild humour the waiter engaged in, and the fact that he told the same joke to us twice. I told him I'd have to count off for that: if he's going to engage in stand-up comedy at tableside, he should at least have enough material to get him through a meal. (I was kidding, of course, about counting off. I actually thought it kind of charming, though I imagine it wouldn't please everybody.)

No city inspection done yet.
The opening accoutrements of the meal consisted of a couple of glasses of house wines and a dish of garlic bread, excellent to the point of decadence,  and served with a ramekin of marinara sauce. This was followed by salads made with a wide variety of fresh ingredients and offered up with a delicious house vinaigrette dressing full of tangy and savoury bits. The main courses were both pasta dishes: one, cannelloni, off the menu and stuffed with veal and cheese, and baked under a cheesy red sauce that was every bit as good as anything to be had on Mulberry Street between Canal and Bleecker. (Writing about it now, I think maybe I should have gone with a four-chili-pepper rating.) The other entrée was one of the evening's specials, a dish of pasta shells stuffed with a mixture of chicken and spinach, deftly seasoned with the triumvirate of Italian cuisine, and lightly covered with cheese and a tomato-cream sauce. I once had the same dish prepared by a famous kitchen in New Orleans, and it wasn't this good. Ordinarily, I would have taken half this dish home for the next day's lunch, but despite the plentiful quantity of food on my plate, it vanished before I could think to ask for a go-box.

Luckily, I won't starve: I have some cannelloni to see me through.

The best part of the evening was when the check came. I'm accustomed to spending well north of fifty bucks for two meals of this quality, including wine, tax and tip; but we were out the door at de Stefano's for less than forty ... and that was without a favourable mistake in the addition. De Stefano's is a couple of miles farther from my home, but it may supplant my neighbourhood cucina as a personal favourite. 

De Stefano's Italian Cafe on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

  1. RobertoC.May 26, 2012

    Wow, that location must be the kiss of death to Italian restaurants. De Stefano's is gone, gone, gone.


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