126 West 13th Street
New York, NY 10011
(212) 691-4886

Good Italian food is something everyone loves, but so few have actually had. Most of the time, they've just had Italian that was somewhat better than the Italian that they've had before. They've had decent Italian. Good Italian is another animal entirely. Good Italian doesn't care if the restaurant's a hundred years old or a day, it doesn't care if the recipe's been handed down through the generations or if it was something the chef wrote down on a napkin while eating Cheerios. Good Italian, like good anything, is about quality and pairing. Gradisca is good Italian. Very good Italian.

Speeds and her boyfriend, Saint Love, invited me out to dinner with one of Saint Love's West Village friends. How could I say no? The friend picked Gradisca in part because she loves the food and in part because she lives two blocks away. She's one of those "what's a bridge?" types who rarely ventures beyond the borders of her immediacy unless she has to, so I can see why she and Speeds get along so well. Unlike Speeds, and this was evident by the end of the night when she ran off to whoot at Firemen, SLF can hold her liquor.

Gradisca looks like your standard upscale-but-not-fancy restaurant. Unlike The Four Seasons or DB Bistro Moderne, it isn't trying to be anything more than a place to get a great meal. There are no wading pools or ghastly art, no fifteen kinds of water or designer furniture. In short, it's my kind of restaurant. It leaves the pretension at the curb. The outside, where the four of us sat, was somewhat cramped, with Speeds literally sitting in front of the stoop of a nearby brownstone and me sitting almost on the narrow sidewalk. But in a strange way, that almost added to the charm.

Saint Love's's friend (SLF) had already ordered a bottle of wine for the table by the time I arrived, so we sat sipping and pondering the menu for a few minutes before deciding to share two of them. The first to come was the Prosciutto di Parma, which was essentially melt-in-your-mouth soft prosciutto with cheese. Absolutely amazing. It was hard to share. Speeds, used to red-sauce, stereotype Italian, asked if they had calamari, despite its not actually being on the menu. No, she was told, we have octopus. So I made sure that the second appetizer was the Polpo con Patate, Pomodori Secchi e Pesto di Basilico, warm octopus, potatoes, and sun-dried tomatoes with a basil pesto. It was less impressive than the prosciutto, but tender and zesty. I won't say it's for everyone's taste, but I will say that it is for mine.

Each entree was delicious, and I should know, since I made sure to try all of them. Speeds ordered the Ravioli di Ricotta ed Erbette a Burro Artigianale, a ricotta and chard ravioli with butter and sage, which was very good, but very buttery. Somehow it still felt like a light dish despite the butter, so if you don't need to worry about your cholesterol, and want something that won't weigh you down on the hot summer nights, this might be just the ticket. Saint Love ordered the Lasagnette di Farina di Farro, con Pomodori, Burrata e Pesto, a flour lasagna with tomato, burrata cheese and a basil pesto. Like the ravioli, this was a very light dish. It almost floated on the plate, held down only by the cheese atop it. The sauce was little more than warm diced tomatoes and pesto, yet lost nothing for flavor. It's a small dish however, so if you're the kind of diner who likes their pasta to be one cheesy gooey bite after another, who doesn't believe in getting up from the table until you've eaten so much you can't breathe, then you'll be disappointed. If you want something fresh and different and want room for dessert though...

SLF ordered the Pappardelle con Ragu di Agnello Tagliato al Coltello, an egg pappardelle pasta dis with a lamb meat sauce. Delicious and probably the most "traditional" of the dishes that anyone ordered. Although the amount she got looked somewhat on the small side, it was quite heavy and any more than that probably wouldn't leave room for dessert. My entree was, in my opinion, the best of the lot. The Filetto di Maiale alle Pesche su Fonduta di Parmigiano con Spinaci Saltati, roast pork tenderloin and grilled peaches under a Parmesan fondue sauce with a little bowl of sauteed spinach on the side. And it was phenomenal. I literally paused for a few seconds when I bit in, it was that good. I wanted the whole table to try this, just to prove that it was that good. The pork was so tender that I cut it with the dull side of the knife by mistake and didn't notice. Peaches are probably not the most traditional Italian fare, and the fact that it blended so well underscores what I said in the beginning about good Italian not being beholden to some ancient notions of what they ate in Goodfellas. This was Italian at its best, in my opinion.

We ended the meal with some coffee and a shared Tiramisu. Like everything else this evening, it was delicious. Soft and fluffy, like an espresso-soaked cloud.

Two bottles of wine, one glass of dessert wine, two appetizers, four entrees, coffees and a dessert, with tax and tip wound up somewhere in the vicinity of $300.

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