For St. John residents, enjoying a truly authentic Italian meal used to require actually traveling to Italy. Now, thanks to Livio Leoni, diners only have to make their way to his new restaurant, Da Livio, to be transported to the European country.
As patrons enter Da Livio, located in Cruz Bay across from the Lime Inn, the Italian culture is immediately evident — from the music to the black and white photos adorning the restaurant’s walls, and even down to the last detail. Leoni imported everything, including the linens, plates, silverware — and even the toilet — straight from Italy.
The chef was imported from Italy as well. Leoni, whose original chef departed for Italy in February after several months of working to get the restaurant open, found chef Marco Bandini, a native of Rome, on the internet.
Bandini, who described himself as a traveler through an interpreter — he speaks no English — was educated at the Instituto Professionale Alberghiero Falcone di Giarre, and has been cooking for several years.
Leoni, who was originally planning to open the restaurant on the second floor of the three-story building next to Sogo’s, jumped at the chance to open on the first floor when the space became available.
Nine Months of Work
“It’s much better than upstairs,” said Leoni. “It’s on the ground floor, so it’s easier for customers to come in, and it’s bigger than the second floor.”
Leoni is happy to finally have his restaurant open after nearly a year of hard work, he explained.
“It took nine months,” said Leoni. “It was like waiting for my daughter — it was worth it.”
Leoni attributed his desire to move to the Caribbean to his wife, Neidis Valdes.
“My wife is from Cuba, and we wanted to move to the Caribbean,” said Leoni, who travels to Cuba with his wife often.
“We found this island, and it’s close to Cuba.”
Leoni and Bandini developed the distinctly southern Italian menu together, the restaurant owner explained.
“We worked together on the menu,” said Leoni. “We plan to change it if we can get something fresh, especially something directly from Italy.”
Vegetables and fish take center stage on the antipasti menu, which features tris di verdure — a small sampler of eggplant parmigiana, caponata and peperonata, a Sicilian dish. Also on the antipasti menu is fresh orange salad, a Sicilian staple.
Da Livio’s menu offers a wide range of entrees, including several pasta dishes, risotto, meat and fish. Try the penne alla norma — penne pasta with a large slice of baked eggplant, sprinkled with creamy ricotta salata cheese. The pomodoro sauce is light, flavorful and not too overbearing, and the aroma of the fresh basil garnish enhances the dish.
Leoni recommends the linguini alla bottarga — linguini pasta with Mediterranean caviar.
“My favorite,” he said.
The restauranteur also enjoys the risotto al nero — risotto with cuttlefish ink. The dish may not look appetizing, but it’s considered a delicacy in southern Italy.
For dessert, don’t miss Da Livio’s tiramisu, a light, delicate way to end a hearty, authentic Italian dinner.
With prices ranging from $15 for appetizers; $25 to $33 for entrees; and $15 for dessert, Da Livio’s prices are competitive with other St. John upscale restaurants.
The restaurant opened just one week ago, and Leoni plans to have a grand opening in November, once he’s worked out all the kinks during slow season.
With the grand opening, Leoni will add the finishing touches, making the restaurant truly authentic Italian.
“It should be like a restaurant in Italy,” said Leoni. “The drinks, the wine — everything. We’ll have an espresso machine, and we would like to make our own pasta.”
Da Livio is currently open seven days a week for dinner only. Leoni plans to begin offering a lunch menu later this year. For more information or to make reservations, call 779-8900.