By Claudie Benjamin
Straight out of the pages of an illustrated storybook, Il Violino restaurant manager Daniel Vlasceanu has designed and constructed a charming forest cottage that pleases customers of all ages. He designed and constructed the shelter early in the pandemic period and has continued to decorate it inside and out with seasonal and holiday themes.
By good fortune, a well-sized tree stands at the northern end of the cottage. During the winter holiday season branches were entwined with strands of blue lights to celebrate Hanukkah and white ones to mark Christmas.
Daniel was born in Pitesel, a mid-sized city in Romania. He earned a Master’s Degree in Civil Engineering from Yash University, a prestigious academic center that draws students from Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa. Arriving in New York as a tourist in 2012, he fell in love with the vibrancy and possibility of this cosmopolitan city.
Deciding to stay, found an apartment in Astoria, Queens, and recognized the opportunity to build a career in hospitality at Il Violino, a restaurant that has maintained its presence at 180 Columbus Avenue “for years and years” with the same owners.
Just speak with the staff at this restaurant and you sense immediately how much they admire Daniel, who tirelessly devotes himself to pleasing both staff and customers. He refers to his staff as, “my friends at the restaurant.” They come from Italy, Mexico, Ecuador, Colombia, Romania, Guatemala and other parts of the world. All onboard, they have contributed ideas and elbow grease to the ongoing enhancements of the outdoor cottage.
Daniel implemented the initial design of the construction with the help of an architect. A real floor and colorful flowers in boxes border the shelter’s windows facing Columbus Avenue. Classic rotating ceiling fans with lighting have replaced heaters as spring approached. All draw customers not only to dine but also to have their photos taken inside and outside the cottage.
An especially welcoming bright spring touch includes small round turquoise tables and wicker chairs set out on the sidewalk in front of the cottage…a wordless invitation to stop for a while for a lovely Chianti Tuscan red wine with some crusty bread to dip in olive oil.
Naturally, all this creatively arranged atmosphere supports a reliably good dining experience. Who doesn’t like pasta? And, Il Violino prides itself on particularly tasty dishes like homemade lasagna or pasta with shrimp and truffle oil prepared with pasta that is freshly made every morning. Daniel says flexibility is important to accommodate customers’ preferences. Even if he may take a week to design a very special celebratory menu highlighting Ravioli D’Aragosta or Salmone all’arancia e bacca del muschio for Mother’s Day, for example, customers may also always order their very favorite dish, the one they always order at Il Violino.
Locals have been very supportive of the restaurant during the challenges of Covid. Daniel now is committed to expand the business. His enthusiasm for the Upper West Side in general and for the immediate surroundings of the restaurant is boundless. “I know the people who manage the businesses two or three blocks up and two or three blocks down. I like to talk with them. It’s a real neighborhood.”