If you want good value for a casual Italian restaurant meal in NYC, head to San Marzano in the East Village. It’s located at 117 Second Avenue, near 7th Street in downtown Manhattan.
If you have to wait for a table, grab a pitcher of sangria ($15) at the bar and scope out the dining area. It seats about 60 people who have views of the streetscape. Two walls of the restaurant feature windows that look out onto on 2nd Avenue and 7th Street. That intersection provides conversation topics for couples seated at wooden tables around the dining room’s perimeter.
To start off your meal, go with the Burrata ($7), pulled cow’s milk cheese served with prosciutto di Parma and balsamic reduction. The cheese was so creamy and soft it melted in my mouth. The prosciutto was thinly sliced.
You might try the Calamari, which was battered and fried to a golden color. It was nice and chewy without being greasy. It was served with a deliciously tangy tomato sauce.
The Brussel sprouts with pancetta, Fuji apples and pecorino will satisfy vegetable cravings.
If you want to go meatless, try the Tegamino, lightly fried eggplant topped mozzarella and tomato and baked to a tender perfection.
San Marzano’s main focus is fresh in-house pasta ($9). For a reasonable price, you can choose spaghetti, pappardelle, garganelli, farfalle or whole wheat spaghetti, among them. (There is even a gluten-free tagliatelli!) You get to pair your pasta with a sauce. Meatballs, wild boar ragu, Bolognese, and broccoli rabe and sausage are some options.
If you like something more standard, pair farfalle with pesto.
If you’re more ambitious, try garganelli with alla norma sauce made of roasted eggplant, tomato sauce, pesto and mozzarella.
In both cases, pasta was cooked perfectly al dente. The pesto had just the right amount of basil and garlic without being overbearing The alla norma sauce, with its bouquet of flavors, may have had one too many ingredients for some, but was delicious nonetheless.
Wash it all down with a glass of cabarnet Sauvignon. The Stemmari. 2013 ($6) was delicious and full-bodied with hints of tobacco and red currants.
A light, creamy Tiramisu ($7) finished off the meal. It was sublime with just the right amount of coffee flavor and cocoa powder.
Bottom line: If you want a high quality, Italian meal for not a lot of money, try San Marzano!
That’s the Lowdown!
If you are on an Italian Meal Kick, you may want to check out this restaurant as well: