Volume 16 • Issue 31 | December 30 - January 8, 2004


202 West 14th Street (212) 255-2060
Prices: Pastas start at $8, entrees $14-$18
hours: open 7 days, lunch, dinner; Sat/Sun $10 prix fixe brunch
attentive service; excellent, reasonably priced Italian wine list

Homemade pasta and fine wines

By Frank Angelino

Primitivo on West 14th Street presents “well-prepared, affordably priced Italian food in a creative way that bespeaks good taste + good value.”

After six years of lying vacant, vibrant new energy enlivens 202 West 14th Street, where Primitivo Italian restaurant recently opened.

According to partner Peter Traub, the name Primitivo has several meanings. First, it is a lusty, southern Italian red wine. The word also means ‘primitive,’ and is evoked in the restaurant’s vivid design with its dark woodwork and deep red walls. A large portrait painting of a native Brazilian evokes the primitive Amazon.

Traub and his team (brother and manager Timothy, Chef Donato Deserio, affable host Claudio Mancini and guiding hand Enrico Malta) have figured out a way to present well prepared, affordably priced Italian food in a creative way that bespeaks good taste + good value. Again, a play on primitive is manifested by the chef’s rustic southern Italian homemade fresh and dried pasta dishes.

It’s not by chance that the partners opened Primativo on West 14th Street.

“We looked in this area because 14th Street is starting to emerge from 6th to 8th Avenues. We noticed the change and felt this area was starting to develop. It’s been fun to be part of the rejuvenation of 14th Street,” said Peter Traub.

Deserio’s food shows some innovative takes on traditional Italian cooking. Polipo alla Napolitana mixes pieces of grilled, slightly charred octopus in a lemon and olive oil dressed mixed green salad.

Primitivo’s pasta dishes sparkle. Claudio Mancini will likely present each table with a platter full of different fresh, home made pastas and lovingly describe each one and the sauces that best match up with them.

Cavatelli are sauced alla Bolognese with a country meat and tomato sauce; trenette are expertly coated with a traditional basil, pignoli and garlic pesto sauce; and pappardelle al funghi has the pasta tossed with mixed wild mushrooms and truffle oil. Foremost among the fresh pastas are mezza lune d’arogosta, with the half moon shaped raviloli stuffed with fine tasting lobster meat and topped with a tasty chopped shrimp and sherry-brandy sauce. The rich flavors of the dish are appropriately prepared so that they are not in excess.

As uniformly good as the fresh pastas are, Primitivo’s dried pastas deserve equal attention, since some sauces are simply better paired with dried pasta. Fusilli Norcia, Mancini says, is the restaurant’s most popular dish. It’s easy to see why: an excellent tomato sauce with small nuggets of hot and sweet sausage intertwine the spiral pasta.

Rigatoni alla Siciliana is served with all of the right ingredients. There’s lightly sautéed, cubed eggplant in a basil-tomato sauce which are accented by soft, shredded ricotta salada cheese. Linguine alla vongole, an erratic dish on many menus, here comes together with the right light touch and appropriate clam flavor.

Primativo’s dozen entrees, such as chicken, veal, and beef seem to get the same care as its pastas. Branzino, sea bass is pan seared and served with a tomato herb sauce and broccoli d’rabe.

The delectable bread at Primativo comes from the very reputable Sullivan Street Bakery. Fulfilling the promise of its name, Primativo’s wine list has a separate section with five Primativo wines. They’re all from southeastern Italy, and are medium to full bodied reds. The list overall, with 160 regional Italian wines is excellent and very affordably-priced. It breaks the wines into easy to understand categories and the staff is helpful in choosing a wine to complement a dish.


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