In Italian, Spasso means amusement, and the West Village newcomer from the team behind the now defunct Choptank seems to be meant just for that sort of thing: amusement. Replacing neighborhood favorite Alfama, Spasso is rustic and charming, bustling, buzzing, and cheerful. Set on the corner of Perry Street and Hudson, Spasso is almost impossibly scenic: fresh white paint, big bright windows, exposed brick, a long and crowded bar, glinting mirrors, an attractive staff…it’s quintessential West Village – the sort of place the locals will fawn over adoringly.
The inside is bright and shiny and new, though with the ubiquitous ‘lightly distressed’ look popular with trendy rusticity these days. The bar, which runs down almost the entirety of the restaurant, is marble and set for dinner. On a quiet night, its a lovely place to eat alone or with a friend; on a busy night, it’s mobbed and better for glasses of wine and socializing. In the rest of the awkwardly-shaped restaurant, the tables line the walls and windows with comfortable banquettes and modern funky orange chairs or are stuffed into odd corners and quirky nooks. Perhaps the prime table though is pushed up against the window up front, near the door. A four-top, it’s isolated from the hub-bub in the back and commotion at the bar.
The food at Spasso is both traditional and contemporary ‘artisanal’ Italian – the most remarkable thing about it is the quality of the ingredients, which you can taste in every bite. Cured meats and sausages, unusual cheeses, fresh-baked bread, luxury olive oils, fresh and seasonal vegetables, homemade and hand-rolled pastas – it’s a verifiable cornucopia of luxe products. The starters are presented more like small plates and divided into pesce, verdure, formaggi, and carne casalinga; the options are dizzying. I ask, how is one to choose between such things as coppa and scallion, lardo and smoked mozzarella, pools of homemade stracciatella served with crusty bread, delicate cuts of robiola and taleggio, slender cured sardines with pickled radicchio, tendrils of charred octopus with creamy yogurt and mint, eggplant arancini with fluffy whipped housemade ricotta, or a simple tricolore salad with a zesty lemon vinaigrette? And those represent only half of the options you have to pick from to start a meal…
courses are fairly traditional and hearty interpretations of Italian cuisine. The pastas are wonderful – cooked perfectly, tender, savory, and heart-warming. The spaghetti al pomodoro is simple and satisfying – it’s a classic red ‘gravy’-soaked dish and great if you’re craving something uncomplicated. The maccheroni di busa is just plain addictive with a pork ragu that I want to sop up with bread and lick out of the bowl before they take it from me – additions of fennel and goat cheese don’t hurt either, adding depth to an already delicious dish. With such soul satisfying pastas, it’s hard to imagine why you would order anything else, but, if you must, the entrees at Spasso are pretty good also. In particular, the grilled lamb chops are cooked perfectly to a pinky-red and served with a fresh and bright tomato marmelleta and sweet pools of vincotto – the flavors are unusual yet combine beautifully for an overall earthy taste.
Spasso is an immensely enjoyable addition to a neighborhood known for its charming restaurants. It’s hard to imagine how an immediate area that’s home to The New French, Cafe Cluny, Paris Commune, The Place, L’Artusi, August, and The Spotted Pig, amongst many others, can support another casual and cozy eatery; and yet, early on a Wednesday night, Spasso was packed to the gills with fashionable types, emerging for a relaxed yet stylish meal from their nearby brownstones. While it is ‘just another West Village restaurant’, with a similar vibe, price point, and clientele to many of those listed above, it’s also a lovely Italian option in a neighborhood heavy on French and New American and a wonderful alternative for desserts and wine.
Perfect For: West Village locals, solo eating at the bar, bustling sunday brunch, double-dating, pasta fanatics, hearty family dinners out, early in the night eats