La Vela may seem like just another Italian restaurant on the Upper West Side, but it has a neighborhood charm and a friendly vibe that makes it special. Located on Amsterdam between 77th and 78th Streets, it’s a short walk away from the 79th Street stop on the 1 train. A few Fridays ago, we took Bear there for dinner, and as soon as we stepped in the door, the hostess smiled and welcomed us inside. The interior is dimly lit and rather kitschy; the dinner crowd seems relaxed and warm.
The menu sports the usual antipasti and salads, as well as a variety of dry pasta and fresh pasta. The hostess asked if we had any questions and I mentioned that we had called ahead about the food allergies. She immediately pointed out several dishes that were easy to alter, but she said anything could easily be done without cream, cheese, or butter. I settled on the tagliatelle San Remo without the sun-dried tomatoes, and when the waitress wrote down the order, the hostess came over and stressed to her that the dish be done with no cross contamination at all. “No cheese, no butter, nothing can even touch that plate,” she ordered.
The pasta was warm and savory. The fresh pasta was more moist than dry pasta, and the tomato sauce kept it from being too sticky. I always love shrimp in my pasta, and the portions were perfectly sized—although it could be because I was so hungry. Unfortunately the picture is poor quality because of the low lighting, but as you can see, the dish was very colorful. Best of all, zero allergic reactions in sight!
La Vela was a perfect find on a less-than-perfect day; Fridays this past semester were always a running-around-day and it was nice to relax with some good food and good service. The clientele seemed to be mostly regulars, judging by the amount of people that were talking to the hostess and saying hello to friends nearby. Its comforting atmosphere and convenient location—close to cake!—makes La Vela a wonderful find.