This is the latest edition of Who Goes There? a regular feature in which Lost City's Brooks of Sheffield cracks the doors on mysteriously enduring Gotham restaurants—unsung, curious neighborhood mainstays with the dusty, forgotten, determined look—to learn secrets of longevity and find out, who goes there.
Villa Mosconi has been anchoring a section of Macdougal Street between W. Houston and Bleecker since 1976. The facade isn’t very inviting. It hearkens from the curtains-over-everything school of Italian restaurant design that believes diners aren’t interested in looking out the window and certainly don’t want people peering in at them. And what would they want outside anyway? Aside from countless bad oil paintings and plenty of white tablecloths, the main thing filling the somewhat claustrophobic, low-ceiling dining room was love. Love of life, love of food, love of each other.
Villa Mosconi is the kind of restaurant where patrons hug their waiters goodbye, and perfect strangers conduct loud, boisterous conversations across tables. The unavoidable confab the night I went was between an accentuate-the-positive, bridge-and-tunnel family and a guy who could have gone by the name of Jackie Nose. They laughed. They shared. They trade axioms. (“When a man offers you friendship and financial advice, you will get neither.”)
Peter Mosconi, who runs the Emilia-Romgna-oriented kitchen (his and his wife’s wedding photo hangs in the corner), seems to get a little bit of every kind of trade. At one table sat a biker type, in bandana, tattoos and wallet chain. A flamboyant African-American dancer, gesturing wildly, entertained friends at a four-top. A third table was occupied by a couple of throwbacks to the Village’s literary past, talking passionately—and endlessly of Herman Melville and Edna O’Brien and James Fenimore Cooper. Everyone seemed to be a regular. One group not represented were the beautiful people. Not their scene at all.
The arrival of free bruschetta at the table got me worried; freebie appetizers, I’ve found, are almost always a harbinger of bad entrees. But things went up from there. I ordered the Oysters Rockefeller because, Jesus, outside of New Orleans, where can you get Oysters Rockefeller anymore? I was stunned when they turned out to be pretty good. Jackie Nose steered me toward the Rigatoni Bolognese. (“The best in town!”) My waiter was a dapper old guy whose first language is still Italian, and who retired years ago, but still comes in when they need help. I asked him whether the sauce was beef or pork or both. He shrugged and said, “Meat.” (I found out later that they use beef, pork and veal; the sauce is delicious.) I was coaxed into the homemade tiramisu and the busboy was kind enough to serve the accompanying raspberry sauce on the side in case I didn’t like it.
The dishes are all quite expensive—a drawback—but somehow I didn’t feel robbed. As I departed, my retiree waiter said “See you next week!” Another waiter started laughing and said, “He’s got the whole thing down.”
—Brooks of Sheffield
· Previous Installments of 'Who Goes There' [~E~]