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5626 Monkland Ave., NDG (Villa Maria metro)

Open Mon - Sun 4:00 PM to 11:00 PM. Tel.: 484-9402
What would an Italian restaurant be like without tuxedoes, cheesy music (pardon the pun) and mustachioed waiters speaking with silly accents, not to mention good ol’ Mamma Leone hefting her way about the place and bellowing “Mangia!” to a Vino Tavolo-hoisting bevy of boisterous tourists?

Well, you might try Digestivo, an Italian place that belongs in the category “undiscovered gem” (unless of course you come from NDG.)

I’d certainly never heard of it and I didn’t register it as Italian from the name when a friend invited me there.

I had already forgotten what cuisine my friend had said it was when we walked up to the entrance on Monkland Avenue, just a few short blocks from the newly trendy restaurant strip encompassing Monkland Tavern, Messob d’Or and Benedicts, and there’s certainly no way to tell from the outside.

An unassuming space, Digestivo looks like someone remodelled the ground floor of their house, painted it in a shade of White Zinfandel and set up a few blue-naperied tables. Oh, and while they were at it, made the patio out front a terrasse.

It’s a family-run operation, apparently, and you suspect that’s the daughter and her mom serving you, but they’re so professional that any urge to puff up your cheeks, wrinkle your forehead and wheeze “So Vinny tells me the veal is good here” dies before it even becomes a thought balloon.

It’s a quiet place early in the evening, but the terrasse fills up quickly and soon there’s not a table to be had, in or out.

The menu is fairly vast, with a large assortment of pastas, mostly the traditional tomato-, cream- and seafood-based (Arrabiata, Romanoff and Vongole, to name one of each) which range from around $12 to $19. There’s also the Vitellos—various incarnations of Veal: Parmigiana, Scallopine, Milanese, Griglia and so on, ranging from $14 to $20. The “Pesce” section offers Sole, Shrimp and Scallop dishes up to the mid-$20 range.

You’re best, however, to go for the reasonably-priced table d’hôte, which includes a Primo Piatti—choice of mixed greens (a tart and palate-piquing mixture of fluffy lettuce and bitter dandelion) or soup of the day—and Secondi Piatti, plus dessert and good coffee. Those on the night we were there included Linguini with porcinis and white wine ($22.95), A duo of pasta shells ($23.95), Cornish Game Hen Fra Diavolo ($28.95), Surf and Turf ($29.95) and Catch of the Day for $26.95 (this last item, salmon, was passed on because it was a Tuesday. Ask Tony Bourdin why.)

The surf and turf, a Brobdingnagian Filet Mignon accompanied by three brawny scampi—corn-fed, from the looks of it—was an artistic triumph, set on the elegant blue plate with a voluptuous helping of tomatoey linguine. The steak was done to a hair of perfectly medium-rare and the scampi melted in your mouth.

The Game Hen was artfully grilled to a moist and juicy finish, which is tough to do and easy to do tough with such a small bird, and was coated in a delicious tomato, wine and herb sauce. It came with a special request of fettucine Alfredo, for one of us who was allergic to onions.

An ambrosial Sambucca, creamy Tiramisù and excellent allongé capped off a fine evening at Digestivo, the best little Italian place you never went to.
Reviewed by Nick Robinson

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