Saggio, an Italian spot in Washington Heights, is such a pleasant place to hang out that you’ll make excuses for the average food like a parent who argues that standardized tests scores aren’t an indication of their child’s intelligence. Sit down at a candlelit table in the small, dark dining room or covered backyard, and enjoy bread and big $10 glasses of Italian wine while the friendly servers tell you about the night’s specials. It doesn’t really matter what you order because you’ll have a very nice dinner, even if you don’t remember the food.
Saggio’s thing is handmade pasta. You can count on four or five usual suspects, and another four or five that rotate nightly. We’ll be the first to admit that there’s very little separating our favorite one, the squash and ricotta ravioli with glazed pumpkin seeds, and least favorite, the rigatoni with grandma’s slow-cooked ragu. The ragu could use a dose of salt and acid, and the raviolis are a bit overcooked, but the portions are big, the sauces are rich and filling, and you could get both for $33. As you can see, it’s very tempting to make excuses for the food here.
Saggio specializes in housemade pasta, but this appetizer is our favorite dish here. The big bowl of calamari is lightly charred and doused in white wine and lemon. Just know that there’s enough garlic to give a vampire a panic attack, so keep that in mind if you’re here with a date.
These are the only things here that no amount of jazz in the backyard or topped off wine glasses at the bar can make up for. The simple house bread is very light, so toppings like prosciutto and mozzarella just fall off when you cut into it.
The six ravioli are each about the size of playing cards, and they’re filled with butternut squash and lots of ricotta. They’d be very rich on their own, but they’re served in butter sauce as thick as gravy and topped with sweet glazed pumpkin seeds. The result is delicious enough to make up for the overcooked noodles, and heavy enough to put you into REM sleep on your way home.
Criticizing grandma’s ragu at a neighborhood Italian spot like this seems like it could lead to a confrontation with a spatula-wielding grandma, so we’ll just say that grandma has an aversion to salt and acid that we don’t share. With that said, the big portion comes with so many tender meatballs that it’s basically like getting both the meatball appetizer and pasta for $15.