Italy is a popular summer destination for American tourists, and while it makes sense that Italian food and culture rate as seductive reasons to travel, some of us are more focused on paying rent than buying plane tickets. However, it’s still possible to experience a taste of la dolce vita at Arco Cafe (886 Amsterdam Avenue; 212-665-0033). The UWS restaurant offers an affordable taste of the Apennine peninsula during the day.
Every Monday through Friday from noon to 6 p.m., the restaurant is serving a two-course lunch for $12. And no, this is not a way to peddle piddly small plates; these are full-size portions just like you’d find at your nonna’s place.
The meal starts with a selection of salads and appetizers; choices include a simple Mediterranean salad (mixed greens, red onion, cucumbers, chickpeas, goat cheese, olives, and tomatoes in a lemon vinaigrette), kale salad (raisins, almonds, cherry tomatoes, lemon vinaigrette), bruschetta, minestrone, and zuppetta di cozze, a spicy tomato stew with vermentino wine and mussels.
All the pastas are made in-house. The dishes range from Roman tagliolini cacio e pepe (cheese and black-pepper sauce) and tagliolini carbonara with pancetta to Sardinian maloreddos alla campidanese, an authentic handmade pasta with sausage and spicy tomato sauce.
A selection of omelette and egg dishes are also availalbe. The omelette del contadino is filled with sun-dried tomatoes and pecorino cheese, with a mixed-green salad on the side. Omelette deliziosa incorporates prosciutto, caramelized onions, and mozzarella cheese, also with a side of dressed greens. For an extra dollar diners can choose a chicken paillard or Milanese with a fresh arugula-tomato salad.
If you happen to have a bit of extra cash, desserts are just $5 more. Choose from semifreddo all’amaretto di Sardegna (a seasonally appropriate frozen dessert with amaretti cookies, strawberry sauce, and powdered sugar), torta all’olio di oliva (olive oil cake with strawberry sauce, lemon cream, and powdered sugar), tortino al cioccolato (chocolate lava cake with vanilla sauce, whipped cream, and powdered sugar), affogato, and gelato. Also, Monday through Thursday, all bottles of wine are half-price.