La Dolce Vita

It’s the mark of a great neighborhood restaurant that within five minutes of entering one you feel completely relaxed, at home, and already thinking of your next visit. Last night a friend and I had such an evening at the new Al Crostino, from being lavished with attention upon arrival, to having kisses blown at our departure. Owner Luigi Diotaiuti (also of Al Tiramisu in Dupont) was there making sure his new baby was running smoothly, working the crowd with aplomb as only an Italian can.

It’s an intimate space on U between 13th & 14th Streets. With cheerful yellow walls and an extended wraparound bar, it kept a good balance between romantic and lively while we were there. There’s liberal use of the all-purpose word prego and RAI on the bar TV. This ambience really reminded me of wine bars in Venice and makes it definitely a place that I would stop in for a glass on the way home.

Considering it’s a wine bar, I felt obligated to drink up. So I indulged in a few glasses well-chosen by our charming and efficient waiter Marcello. To end the night he convinced me to try espresso served with a shot of grappa – mixed at your own pace.

After a quick consultation between Luigi and Marcello as to whether I would enjoy the honey- or the chamomile-infused grappa more, the hazy honey firewater was procured. It made for an amazing combination of caffeine and alcohol, and enabled me to dizzily waltz the four blocks home with ease.

I hope Al Crostino can straddle the line between keeping a neighborhood feel while becoming wildly popular. The people there last night ran the gamut from serious wine lovers laughing away at the bar, to a bevy of young ladies in the obligatory handkerchief tops reveling in flirting, to neighborhood couples just wandering in off the street. All were equally greeted by Luigi and urged to enjoy la dolce vita…

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