Over the weekend I found myself at a “friends and family night” for a new restaurant.
Ever been to one?
It happens usually on the eve of a grand opening, when the owners invite a roomful of sympathetic souls to eat and drink so the kitchen and service staff can experience a packed house in the new space.
I didn’t realize that’s what was going on when friends called me and my wife on the spur of the moment and asked us to join them at Varuni Napoli. This new Neapolitan pizzeria in Morningside comes from Antico Pizza Napoletana alum Luca Varuni. Fans of that latter restaurant will surely recognize Varuni as the former star pizzaiolo. It was a merry free-for-all, with much wine and unbidden food arriving at the table, many toasts, and Varuni’s father walking through the dining room singing opera arias.
You may be asking, “Is the world ready for yet another Antico clone?”
To which I would respond: Duh.
But I would also aver that Varuni is no clone. The space is larger, more elegantly outfitted and built for a different crowd, with a spectacular marble counter wrapping the open kitchen. The menu features any number of small plates — sausage-stuffed peppers, arancini, marinated eggplant — as well as pizza.
If this restaurant at first pass reminds me of any place, it’s 2 Amys in Washington, D.C., one of my favorite places in my hometown. Both restaurants are situated in residential areas, and both feel supremely kid friendly early in the evening but drinkier as the night wears on. Both give clean, simple options beyond pizza — food you can relax into.
With its free parking next door, Varuni has the makings of a major hit.
- by John Kessler for the Food & More blog