Friday, June 2, 2017

A Stroll Down a Suburban Side Street Yields Big Flavors

“Come for the food, stay for the family.” Sure, this slogan may sound cliché and most certainly has been exploited by countless restaurants that classify themselves (some much less accurately than others) as family-friendly establishments. But I cannot recently recall a more recent, rewarding dining experience than my trek out to Norwood’s Vico. Opened nearly three years ago, this quaint, refreshingly unflashy restaurant’s (seating fifty patrons) name is apt given its Italian translation of ‘side street,’ reflecting its location just off the town center. Vico’s furtive location, however, doesn’t necessarily keep it a secret from the public. Far from it in fact, as evidenced by the loyal customers who continue to pack into the restaurant seeking fresh, highly affordable Italian cuisine.

                Vico’s setting is casual, cozy and intimate. While there’s no bar (only wine and beer are served), several booths drape along the walls while pendant fixtures dangle from the ceiling. The formality of white tablecloths is quickly offset by wooden floors and even more importantly, a cordial wait staff. Executive chef/owner Vincenzo Loffredo, who hails from Foggia Italy, makes several tableside appearances to chat with his customers, while his equally affable wife, Maria, dually serves as both hostess and our server that evening (her inquiry following our appetizer course about if we desired pacing out entrees several minutes was a simple, sincere and welcomed gesture that is incredibly rare nowadays).

                While Vico’s menu is considerably smaller than other Italian eateries, it’s packed with a slew of appealing, tasteworthy dishes, and that’s not including numerous house specials that change daily. Each dish is handcrafted, and Loffredo credits his usage of fresh ingredients to both his proximity to seasonal ingredients during his childhood on a farm along with his tutelage under chef Franco Caritano. Portion sizes are incredibly generous (enough to feed a family!) at incredibly reasonable price points (entrees typically top out at $20, desserts at $7, and generous pours of wine – including a velvety, ripe flavored Argentinian Mendoza – range from $7-9 by the glass while bottles are very accessible).

                Complimentary house-made garlic focaccia and green olives are provided at the outset, which prompted my sole quibble of the evening: the bread could use a touch less salt along with an accompanying dipping oil. Antipasto misto ($14) features a trio of fresh Italian meats (prosciutto di Parma, sopressata, and imported salame), accompanied by provolone, roasted peppers, pickled eggplant, and imported grilled artichokes. The salty-spicy flavor profile of the meats and vegetables meshed well atop the crunchy, aforementioned focaccia. Entrees fared even stronger, beginning with the visually striking Spaghetti Alla Pescatora (at $25, while the menu’s most expensive dish, remains an absolute steal), which showcases incredibly fresh, housemade squid ink spaghetti topped with ample amounts of mussels, clams, shrimp, calamari, and scallops, all topped with an addictively spicy tomato sauce. It’s unsurprisingly a huge hit at our table. Also memorable is bucatini amatriciana ($19), hollow spaghetti blended with red onion, San Marzano tomatoes, slices of pecorino, and my favorite ingredient, pancetta, which infuses the dish with a crunchy, peppery bite. Two house specials are also standouts: meaty, yet tender swordfish with capers and the Pappardelle Cacciatore, with perfectly executed egg noodles laced with minced lamb, veal, and beef, all in that same delectable spicy tomato sauce whipped up by Chef Loffredo.

                Desserts are worth staying for given their value along with the housemade tiramisu topped with pieces of dark chocolate.

                In a time where city restaurant closings are sadly occurring at a feverish clip given high rents and high prices for customers, many restaurant owners could rip a page out of Loffredo’s handbook: settle down in the suburbs, provide high quality fare at affordable prices, and offer doting service to boot. Yes, Vico may be situated on a side street, but it remains very much on the public’s mind as one of the area’s most attractive dining options.