Located in the heart of the Upper West Side, Arco Café fits in well amongst the multitude of other Italian restaurants in the area. However, Arco, which is one of Sebastiano Cappitta’s seven Manhattan restaurants, hopes to separate itself from its competitors by filling the apparently empty niche of Sardinian food.
Although Arco succeeded in capturing the ambience and décor of a café, the food was only average, making it indistinguishable from the Upper West Side’s usual fare.
The first thing that immediately struck me about the restaurant was its façade. The entire front of the café was a wall of windows, allowing any passersby to see directly into the restaurant. The windows helped establish Arco’s café vibe from the get-go, which I found impressive considering it’s still extremely cold outside. Arco continued the café vibe indoors. Two of the walls were lined with chalky bricks, one of which was behind the bar counter. The rustic feel created by the bricks was only enhanced by the minimal lighting, but the restaurant could probably have used a few more homey touches to commit to the theme of “small Italian joint.” The walls were still mostly bare, although this could be attributed to the fact that the restaurant had opened only a few days earlier on Feb. 26.
After arriving at the restaurant, my group was seated immediately, handed menus, and quickly offered bread. One glance at the menu proved that the restaurant held true to its Sardinian roots. Although not extensive, the menu nevertheless had a number of seafood and sausage options to choose from. The menu featured more Sardinian specialties like Cozze alla Marinara, a spicy mussel and tomato soup made with Sardinian Vermentino wine, and Maloreddos alla Montanara, a traditional dish with mushrooms, sausage, and tomato sauce. Unfortunately, since the options were catered to a specific palette, there was little left for my vegetarian co-diners. Overall, the options appeared middling, sticking mostly within the bounds of the Italian food I’ve typically encountered in the neighborhood.
By the time the appetizers came out, we were no longer the only ones in the restaurant, although we were still by far the youngest patrons. As I sipped my minestrone soup, I noticed that the other tables were occupied by older couples, who presumably live in the neighborhood. It soon became clear that, despite the reasonable prices, college students were not the target audience. Turning my attention back to the soup, I found that the broth was somewhat watery, but the soup was chock full of vegetables, which made it a fairly satisfying appetizer.
My main course, which was a special of the day, was an alfredo penne with mushrooms. As with the minestrone soup, the pasta did not disappoint, but it also did not impress. The pasta was less tender than al dente, maintaining a slightly chewy texture that I appreciated. The alfredo sauce was creamy without being stifling, and the fresh parmesan nicely complemented the sauce. Unfortunately, the mushrooms appeared to also be slightly undercooked, disrupting the overall cohesiveness of the dish. Lacking a new twist to a traditional dish, I found the overall flavor to be predictable. Furthermore, the portions were also fairly lacking. I came to Arco hungry and downed the whole entrée in around 15 minutes.
My friends and I finished off our meals by splitting the vanilla cake with a chocolate sauce that tasted suspiciously like Nutella. And although Arco apparently caters to Columbia’s dessert obsessions, I wouldn’t recommend this place for students. Although the price is appropriate for students and the climate is sufficiently casual, the restaurant’s target audience is a much older crowd. Furthermore, the restaurant was quiet and nowhere full, so the atmosphere was a lot more reserved than young adults would find enjoyable.
All that said, there’s nothing wrong with some standard, no-bullshit Italian food that does not try to market itself for anything more than what it is.
Arco Café is located at 866 Amsterdam Ave., between 102nd and 103rd streets.