Cacio e Vino: Why I Love Italian Comfort Food
I knew as soon as I walked into Cacio e Vino, just another small restaurant on that strip of 2nd Avenue between 3rd and 6th with back-to-back casual eateries, that I would adore it, even if the food were mediocre. This cozy Italian spot is authentically charming; with a brick pizza oven burning away in one corner of the exposed brick-encased dining room and all sorts of slightly silly kitsch serving as decoration, you can help but feel warm and welcome at Cacio e Vino.
The restaurant is small and intimate. Simple dark wood tables are stuffed into every possible space and the worn brick walls double as a wine-rack, with waiters and waitresses reaching above diners to pick out their requested bottle. Finger-painted lamps shed a soft golden glow over the crowd, a homey cross between neighborhood couples and NYU students that are “in the know.” The vibe is comfortingly homespun, like the old-world kitchen of your Italian grandmother.
Cacio e Vino serves straightforward Italian comfort food. The prices ending in .95 on the menu had me worrying that I’d walked into a scaled-down Olive Garden, but the kitchen ended up preparing hearty and acceptable food that ranged from exactly what everyone one ‘needed’ to rather mediocre. A vast array of thin-crust pizzas are offered as well as typical antipasti, a selection of pastas, and traditional Italian secondi. The Arancini, saffron risotto balls, are reinterpreted from the size of golf balls to that of baby’s head and are stuffed with a savory blend of beef ragu and peas. Essentially, if you like fried things, cheesy things, and meaty things, the Arancini at Cacio e Vino is your nirvana. The grilled octopus was delicate with thin tendrils of meat arranged neatly with a tangy orange and fennel salad. A veal dish, comprised of small lumps of lightly breaded meat on skewers, was a touch too sweet to be enjoyable, yet showed a deft hand in the kitchen by avoiding turning veal breast into an over-breaded mess. The monkfish special was an alluring fish stew with an addictive tomato-based broth and well-cooked fish, a surprisingly refined preparation for such a comfort food-focused establishment. The pasta with wild boar sauce was simple and satisfying, heavy on salt, oil, and marinated boar meat, and exactly the sort of basic comfort food you just need every now and then.
Cacio e Vino is your quintessential neighborhood Italian spot, with exaggerated charm. The wait staff has over-the-top Italian accents that walk the fine line between laughable and intriguing; the dining area is so cozy that you almost want to change into pajamas and nurse a mug of tea; the food is hearty and heavy on the classic aphrodisiacs (cheese, chocolate, red wine, red meat), inducing a comfortable and welcome food coma. Cacio e Vino is a welcome break from the often over-wrought nouvelle cuisine at ‘foodie’ or fancy restaurants, and the ideal backdrop for catching up with old friends, dating, double-dating, and just enjoying good company.
Perfect For: wine-fueled conversations, cheese lovers, the cash-strapped, pizza aficionados, fans of al fresco dining, pregaming the East Village game, inexpensive decadence