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RESTAURANT REVIEW

Vinny’s At Night

Food and Fun, Sicilian Style

By Allison Lewis

76 Broadway, Somerville (617) 628-1921 Subway: Orange Line to Sullivan Square

Open Tuesday-Saturday, 4:30-10:30 pm

Atmosphere: relaxed

Service: excellent

Prices: dinner $15-$28

You simply can’t go wrong at Vinny’s at Night, an Italian restaurant in Somerville. Vinny’s is tucked into the back of a mini-mart, which adds to its cozy charm. Fake grapevines and flowers decorate the walls, giving it a garden feel. Besides that, there are tables and chairs, and, on a good night, lots of laughing people filling them.

My date and I were seated promptly and served by a friendly waitress. We began with a basket of bread, some olive oil, and bottled diet Pepsi with a side of sliced lemon.

But the main meal is where the fun began. We had shrimp fra diavolo with linguini and veal parmigiana with home-made maffalda (flat noodles with wavy sides, similar to lasagna). The shrimp fra diavolo was filled with thick, jumbo shrimp and spicy marinara sauce. Each bite was rich and flavorful. My date loved it, but the veal parmigiana won my vote.

The veal, breaded and lightly fried, was as comforting as Southern fried chicken, but better tasting and without the grease. The maffalda noodles were delicate and perfectly complemented the veal. The chef explained the secret to the dish’s unbelievable taste -- the marinara sauce. It’s the first thing he makes each morning, a fresh, perfect blend of all the right stuff.

For dessert, we split the tiramisu. The fork fell easily through the soothing, slightly coffee-flavored layers of cream and chocolate, and came quickly to my mouth. Nothing would have made a better end to this delightful meal.

After dinner, we were taken downstairs to meet the star chef, Vinny. He is everything you’d expect of an Italian chef, an extra from Goodfellas with a firm handshake and a fast smile. He was proud to explain his restaurant to me. It’s Sicilian-style food, which means it’s good. As you move south from Rome, the food keeps getting better and better, and Sicily is almost in Africa. It’s so good, in fact, that people keep coming back. Not bad for this humble chef, who refuses to advertise and relies only on word-of-mouth.

We sat downstairs with Vinny and his friends for a half-hour. They were big, happy Italian men in a relaxed, familial atmosphere much like the restaurant upstairs. They fired joke after joke across the table, almost as if their conversation had been rehearsed. Vinny said, “Next time you come, get the rack of lamb.” His secret: place wood chips on top of the charcoal, so the lamb is wood-grilled, giving it a unique, unforgettable flavor.

Vinny’s business card is a miniature menu. On the front, it says, “If you don’t eat here, we’ll both starve.” But the threat isn’t necessary; anyone who goes to Vinny’s will go back again and again.