By Carla Zanoni
WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — A new Italian restaurant is adding to Hudson Heights efforts to overcome its reputation as a "culinary wasteland."
Neighborhood couple Kal and Nicki Narvilas say their new restaurant Saggio, at 829 W. 181st St., will feature homemade gnocchi and papardelle noodles, slow cooked tomato sauce, wines and cheese boards featuring creamy Burrata.
The eatery, which the owners describe as a family-friendly space with family-friendly prices, will open on or around Dec. 15 in the space formerly held by Emilou’s Café, which closed this summer.
"Although we are proud of our neighborhood, the restaurants here are the tail end of an old regime. It’s time for something new," Kal Narvilas said. "I share the frustration with anyone who has been in neighborhood who feels there isn’t much of a selection up here."
Although the majority of restaurants in Washington Heights serve Dominican-style cuisine, a few adventurous newcomers over the past few years have brought sushi, Thai and traditional American-style food to West 181st Street.
The couple, who are partners in the restaurant with Kal Narvilas’s uncle, Peter Simoes, a longtime fixture at local real estate broker Stein-Perry, said the new restaurant will aim to fill a need in the neighborhood, which residents have long called a "culinary wasteland."
"I’m from the neighborhood; I know what the neighborhood wants and needs," Narvilas said. "This menu would be successful in a competitive market downtown, but it’s a place where people like myself who want to spend $20 and get a couple nice dishes can do that or get dressed up and enjoy some wine and a cheese board."
Residents of the area are excited to get the long-awaited neighborhood Italian restaurant.
"I'd just been telling my wife that I wished a nice trattoria would open in the neighborhood," wrote one parent on the a Washington Heights parenting site upon hearing the news.
Christopher Rizzo wrote on the Hudson Heights Gazette that "residents of Hudson Heights have been waiting for a true Italian restaurant for years."
Narvilas, a native Brooklynite and former Hell’s Kitchen resident who has lived in Hudson Heights for four years, describes himself as a true New Yorker, whose family has deep roots in the Heights.
His father, uncles and aunt all lived in the neighborhood, which made it a natural place for him and his wife to choose as their home when they were expecting their son, Saggio, the restaurant’s namesake.
Narvilas said it took him more than two years to open the restaurant, a feat which involved financial wrangling and scoping out an affordable, yet appropriate, space in the neighborhood — a challenge, he said, because of the area’s limited viable commercial real estate offerings.
Now that the time has come, Narvilas said he is committed to opening the doors on or around Dec. 15, if even for a soft launch, serving dinner seven days a week and brunch on the weekends.
"I’m not just putting an Italian restaurant here, naming it after my son and hoping to make a million dollars," Narvilas said, explaining that he will work closely with neighbors to find the right fit for the area.
"I’m investing in my neighborhood and am very confident that what I know about this area means we are actually filling a need here."