As with every visit to New York, this holiday was not complete without a return trip to Little Italy and another attempt to find the gorgeous little family-run restaurant we stumbled into one time to get out of the rain. Years ago, when we made our first visit to The Big Apple, we headed down to Chinatown, Soho and Little Italy for a wander around, unfortunately on the wettest day. It was raining so hard that it seemed like droplets were rising from the pavement to hit me in the face. Despite umbrellas, raincoats and boots, we were soaked to the skin and couldn’t seem to get out of the storm. Eventually, tired, soggy and after getting very lost, we stumbled into Little Italy and into one of the first restaurants we spotted – Amici II.
This cute little restaurant was only small and run by a family who serve the finest foods from their home of Napoli. The restaurant itself was simple, clean and let the walls do the talking – packed with pictures, messages and memorabilia from customers of years gone by, right up the the present. The photos were of families, couples and groups of friends with the owners who had clearly created a legacy among friends that had customers returning for all their special occasions, family meals or just a light lunch.
As a family, ever since that first meal we have made it our business to return to the restaurant. The second time it was again sheer luck that we stumbled across it although we had hoped to find it again – we couldn’t remember the street so it was a lot of guess-work! Since, I have refused to remember the street address, instead preferring to follow my instincts and have always managed to find it, despite entering Little Italy from various directions. I reckon it was just meant to be! The first time we were there, my dad and I kept it simple with a spaghetti with garlic, chilli and oil. Simple proved effective and it was a delicious meal that warmed us up nicely after the wet walk there. My mum had a seafood pasta dish that she said was also amazing, while my sister went for a lasagne which she loved. Sadly I can’t remember what we had the other times, but I know that we absolutely loved it and that it was one of the best Italian meals any of us has ever had – including those in Italy!
This visit was extra special because it was our proper celebration meal for my mum’s 50th birthday which had been a few days earlier. She was adamant that she wanted to spend her birthday meal at this lovely restaurant with a glass of red wine in hand and a plate of delicious pasta in front of her. She was determined on this visit that her dish of choice would be carbonara.
My sister Laura, left, and I were dying to try the food again, Laura was craving pizza while I had a fancy for some seafood and spice. We were all thrilled to be back and couldn’t wait to try out the menu, which is made up of all the classic Italian dishes with a Napoli twist and some special dishes unique to the area. All brimming with flavour and freshly cooked.
I was also loving the wine – house white so I’m not sure of a name, but it was delicious and from the Napoli area. Gorgeous and in a half carafe for myself, served in the lovely big glasses – the only way wine should be served! It was the perfect way to relax after a lot of walking around the shops in Soho. The restaurant was nicely busy, but not packed as it has been when we went later in the day before. There was a group who were going for several courses, and a few pairs just popping in for lunch.
We started with a shared platter of fried zucchinni with a spicy tomato sauce – perfect for sharing, freshly made in the tiny kitchen and so tasty. We’ve had these before in other restaurants, but never quite as crispy or delicious. When we had them before they were served as fried disks which stayed a little soggy as the vegetables (courgettes) are quite wet naturally. The crispier the better in the case of fried anything, but as someone who doesn’t usually like fried food, I found these light and non-greasy. Just full of flavour.
Words cannot describe my main meal – it was beyond anything I could have hoped for and had my taste buds firing on all cylinders. I went for a special dish of black linguine with shrimps after making a hard decision between several dishes including lobster ravioli. I chose this in the end because I had not yet tried black linguine and because the dish just combined all of my favourite flavours in the king prawns and garlic. The decision paid off and it really was exquisite – the best meal I have had there yet. I would really recommend you try this dish if you visit, but whatever you choose will be fantastic. Laura went for the pizza and said it was also really yummy.
The noises of contentment and mouth-watering dishes continued across the table where my mum was tucking into the spaghetti carbonara she had been waiting for all those months – she couldn’t stop raving about it! I tried a mouthful and it was definitely the best carbonara I have ever tasted – so creamy and the bacon really gave it some flavour. Dad was also loving his chicken parmagiana with pasta which really says something because he makes an amazing version of the same dish! The chicken was tasty and crispy and, of course, the pasta was perfectly cooked. Happy faces and empty dishes surrounded the table – can anything show a top restaurant any better than that? If you go to Little Italy – I’m sure there are many amazing restaurants lining the streets, but I would seriously recommend Amici II if you want wholesome, good quality food that is full of Napoli flavour from a staff that will do anything to make your meal perfect. A true expression of Little Italy.
Have you got a restaurant you always return to for the amazing food and staff? What’s your favourite pasta dish?