Delaware Dining: A Review of Luigi Vitrone’s Pastabilities Italian Restaurant on Lincoln Street in Little Italy in Wilmington
Lots of Pastabilities: Luigi is back—as are his rave-iolis.
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There’s a certain degree of assurance and comfort when it comes to Vitrone’s food, and the same goes for his restaurant—the small converted row house on Lincoln Street that he opened in 1988. Vitrone himself is an indelible presence in this neighborhood. So, too, is his food. That’s what makes his particular brand of neighborhood Italian comfort food so, well, comforting.
The fact that Vitrone is back and cooking is comforting in itself.
Two years ago, Vitrone collapsed in his kitchen and spent the next several months clinging to life at St. Francis Hospital. He fell into a coma, and was read his last rites by a priest three times. Pastabilities stood shuttered for nine months.
Vitrone persevered. And his restaurant is now a year into its rebirth, back to providing Little Italy with homemade pastas and sauces in one of the block’s more legendary dining rooms.
Inside Pastabilities is a starlit ceiling. The menus are glued onto scrapbook paper. The eggplant-colored trim complements the impenetrable thicket of stuff on the walls: license plates, aprons, magnets, and every other manner of gift shop fodder. The sultry eyes of Norma Jean peer from several posters.
Like the decor, Vitrone’s food is awesomely un-chic. Entrées that burst from the hotdog cart-sized kitchen are big, lusty things dripping with rich sauces and melted cheese. They are flavor-saturated fireworks displays mixed with garlic and a hug from your Nonna Sophia.
Consider the chicken a la Bobby O’Neill. Named for a beloved regular, the dish smothers chicken breast in ricotta, fontina and mascarpone cheeses, prosciutto di parma, eggplant, and bolognese sauce. It would be overkill if it wasn’t too much of a good thing.
The same can be said of Vitrone’s red wine fettuccine, which married a dense, tomato-splashed wine sauce and fat, serpentine noodles (hand-cut by Luigi, of course), tie-died a gentle purple from soaking it all in. Crab meat, mussels and shrimp and thick hunks of garlic also received a rich coating of flavor.
The chef is still making some of the town’s best veal saltimbocca. His tender wraps of veal carried a balanced, subdued sage essence that played against salty prosciutto rolled up inside, while a rich, buttery demi-glace ran down the surface.
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