If you want a low-key Italian meal of high value, you can’t beat one restaurant in New York City’s West Village:
It’s located at 649 Washington Street at the corner of Christopher Street. Malatesta is something of a staple now, having opened in 1998.
If you’ve ever wondered what differentiates an Italian trattoria from a ristorante, here’s your answer: A ristorante is more formal. Any definition of a trattoria will include one or more of these words: casual, low-key, laid back or informal.
Malatesta is indeed casual. Copies of a handwritten menu are taped to the window next to the entrance. When you enter, you feel less like you are in the West Village and more like you are in a neighborhood eatery somewhere in Italy. That could be due to the restaurateur’s provenance: He is from the town of Rimini in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region near the Adriatic sea. Diners hold raucous conversations in a mix of English, Spanish and Italian. That makes you feel good when you go to an Italian restaurant!
Walled windows on two sides of the cozy, candlelit eatery look out onto Christopher and Washington Streets. An exposed brick wall features framed posters of what appear to be Italian food ads. About 50 diners can sit at mostly square wooden tables for two around the restaurant’s perimeter. Rectangular tables in the center can accommodate groups of six to eight. Some tables appear to be in need of a little varnish but in keeping with the low-key attitude, diners don’t seem to care. They care more about their conversations, which could get quite loud at times!
The menu comes affixed with rubber bands to a wooden board. As you’d expect in any Trattoria, the menu offers an array of antipasti, salads, pasta and main entrees (‘secondi’).
For a starter, seafood lovers will adore the grilled calamari ($12) over a bed of arugula tossed in a light vinaigrette dressing. The calamari were fresh and grilled to a chewy perfection.
I also tried the Golden Beet salad ($10), a seasonal special. The thinly sliced beets comes served on a bed of arugula with crumpled goat cheese. It was light and refreshing.
Malatesta is known for its fresh, homemade pasta. You cannot go wrong with the soft, doughy bite-sized Spinach gnocchi ($14.50) bathed in a thick, creamy Gorgonzola cheese sauce. The morsels will disintegrate in your watering mouth as if they were small pieces of chocolate on a warm night in Bologna. (Freshly grated parmesan cheese comes served in a coffee cup!)
Another great option: Penne all’arrabiata ($11.50). The chef serves the pasta perfectly al dente with an tangy, tomato sauce with hints of garlic and red chili peppers providing just the right amount of heat.
You can also choose from a relatively long list of red, white or rose wines by the glass or bottle. A nice glass of full-bodied Tuscan red Cabernet Sauvignon ($10) will help you wash it all down as you savor all the flavors of your authentically Italian meal.
Make sure to go to the ATM before you head to Malatesta. It’s cash only!
That’s the Lowdown!
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