For 41 years, Da Silvano’s bright yellow awnings on Sixth Avenue were a beacon for celebrities, writers and lesser-known lovers of Tuscan cuisine.
Rihanna, Sean Penn and Owen Wilson all frequented Silvano Marchetto’s namesake Greenwich Village Italian restaurant. Longtime Vanity Fair journalist Nick Tosches even dedicated his biography of boxer Sonny Liston to the bench in front of the trattoria. Marchetto held court near the door, always looking dapper as he warmly embraced regulars and bantered with customers.
But it all came to a swift, sad end in December 2016, when Marchetto decided to close the celebrity haunt in the wake of a nasty divorce and amid rising rents. Customers were heartbroken.
“I couldn’t believe it,” chef Roberto Deiaco, 45, a regular at the restaurant, tells The Post. “I can still taste the fried calamari. It was crisp, fresh and perfect.”
Deiaco’s wife, Giselle, a former journalist, fondly remembers dining al fresco at the restaurant — and Marchetto’s charming personality.
“Silvano would see me and say, ‘Hi, bella,’ ” says Giselle, 42.
Now, more than two years after Marchetto retired to Florence, Italy, the Deiacos have brought the space back to life. At the end of February, they opened Avena Downtown in the old Da Silvano space on Sixth Avenue between Bleecker and Houston streets. Giselle runs the front of the house with flair and friendliness, while Roberto works in the kitchen, making homemade pastas, top-shelf osso buco, fresh bread and calamari every bit as good as the original’s. The awnings are the same sunny yellow that Marchetto chose.
“I would not use another color,” Roberto says. “Yellow is nice and cheerful and it reflects the light.”
Owning any independent restaurant comes with plenty of pressure, but the Deiacos have the added challenge of standing in the shadow of a legend while making the place their own. Aside from the calamari, the new Da Silvano menu is quite distinct from Da Silvano’s. You’ll find tuna carpaccio and mezzaluna pasta filled with duck confit and foie gras on offer, but not the original’s liver crostini (a favorite of food writer Mimi Sheraton’s) or tripe or brains.
‘I couldn’t believe it would close … It made me sad.’
They also had to make a lot of structural changes. The kitchen was a wreck, pipes led to nowhere, basement floods were common and much of the wiring was not up to code.
“We had to do a gut renovation,” says Roberto. But they also found a pleasant surprise under years of plaster. “There’s a sliding steel fire door. We’re keeping that.”
And the couple doesn’t seem to have inherited the famous rivalry with fashionable neighboring eatery Bar Pitti: “We’re civil with them, and I invited [owner Giovanni Tognozzi] to the opening party, but he was at a Rangers game,” says Giselle.
Despite all of the changes, the spirit of the space remains the same.
It’s “a showcase for the best of Italy,” says Giselle. “It’s all about la dolce vita downtown.”
So far, Da Silvano’s boldface fans are enjoying the new spot. Alec Baldwin, heavy-lidded French film star Jean Reno, former Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley and Salman Rushdie have all popped in for meals.
“Jean is a fantastic person; he’s so humble and appreciative and happy to be here,” says Roberto, adding that he ordered the involtini di melanzane (a baked eggplant roll filled with smoked scamorza cheese). “Salman likes the bread, but his girlfriend gives him a hard time about eating it. He had a salad and lobster risotto.”
And Marchetto himself seems to approve of the changes. His nephew Davide Merende stopped by recently and gave him a video tour of the new place via FaceTime.
“He cried tears of joy and wished us good luck,” says Giselle. “That made Roberto and I very happy.”
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