Da Livios Bringing Authentic Italian Cuisine to St. John

Livio Leoni, center, with his family and chef Luca Lanteri, right.

There is no question that St. John has an abundance of fine dining restaurants. However, the island is lacking when it comes to one particular genre — authentic Italian cuisine.

That is going to change come January, with the opening of Da Livios, an authentic Italian restaurant, located above Infusions Lounge in Cruz Bay.

Livio Leoni has been working since October on opening his restaurant.

“I came down here in October and thought we’d be open by the end of November,” he said.

Leoni quickly adjusted his clock to island time, and now expects the restaurant to open by late January.

While researching the possibility of opening a restaurant on St. John, Leoni came across a space for rent at the Marketplace — before Happy Fish took over the location.

From Renovations To Menu Development
“We found the place last year on the Internet,” said Leoni. “We came here and we liked the place, the people and the weather. But we thought it needed an authentic Italian restaurant.”

Leoni then found the perfect location for Da Livios through Islandia, and he worked with Carlson Construction on renovations to the burned-out building.

“We thank Carlson Construction,” said Leoni. “They have been friendly, and always available to finish the restaurant.”
With renovations well underway, Leoni has turned his focus to the menu at Da Livios.

Leoni, who is from Valtellina, Italy, plans to bring authentic foods and wines from the northern region of Italy to his restaurant, he explained.

“I’m from Valtellina, which is on the Alps,” said Leoni. “It’s famous for its wine. We will bring some wine and food from the region to the restaurant.”

Home Made Sauces
Leoni’s chef, 21-year-old Luca Lanteri, is from Sanremo, Italy, which is famous for its pesto — another authentic ingredient that will be found on Da Livios’ menu.

“The sauces and pesto will be all home made,” said Leoni. “But not with basil from Italy — we will use Josephine’s Greens.”

Developing a menu and running a restaurant might seem like a big undertaking for a 21-year-old, but Lanteri has plenty of experience.

“He had a restaurant with his mother,” said Leoni for Lanteri, whose english is not yet fluent. “He studied at a culinary school, and has seven years experience.”

Lanteri has enjoyed his first few months on St. John, Leoni explained.

Chef Enjoying Island Weather
“He likes the sea and the weather,” said Leoni. “He used to live in the mountains, at about 1,000 meters. It’s very cold in the winter there, with a lot of snow.”

Lanteri and Leoni met on the Internet, when Leoni responded to an ad Lanteri had placed looking for work.

“He was looking for work in the Caribbean,” said Leoni. “We met in Genoa last August.”

Although Leoni himself has not studied culinary arts, he enjoys cooking and has worked in restaurants before, he explained.

“In Italy, I worked in a restaurant that was more for young people, with dancing and karaoke,” said Leoni. “I’m not a chef, but I enjoy cooking and food.”

Da Livios will feature more than just spaghetti, Leoni explained.

Home Made Breads, Pasta
“We will not have only pasta, because in Italy it’s not only spaghetti,” he said. “We will prepare a classic Italian menu, starting with antipasti like stuffed vegetables with meat and salted, dried fish with potatoes.”

The restaurant will also offer pizza, lasagna, risotto and pasta with fish, mussels or clams. Several of Da Livios’ ingredients will be home made, including bread, gnocchi and even gelato.

“We will be making our own breads; we are bringing in the equipment for that,” said Leoni. “We’ll have fresh homemade pasta. We are even going to have homemade gelato — we’re waiting on the machine for that, which is coming from Europe.”

And, of course, what would an authentic Italian restaurant be without espresso?

“We will hopefully make the best espresso on the island,” said Leoni.

At Da Livios, everything from the food to the furniture — and even the toilet — will be authentic Italian, Leoni explained.

Catering Services
“I think the old furniture is important,” he said. “Everything from the chairs to the toilet will be designs from Italy.”

Leoni also plans to have authentic Italian music playing over the speakers throughout the restaurant, and may broadcast Italian television on LCD televisions in the future, he explained.

Da Livios will be open for lunch and dinner, and will offer competitive prices, Leoni explained. The menu will change often depending on what  types of fish and meats are fresh and available.

While he waits for Da Livios to open, Leoni is offering catering services, along with Lanteri.

“We are bored here, waiting for the restaurant to open,” said Leoni. “We are available to cater at homes. It would be especially nice for New Years.”

Leoni can be reached at 690-9416. Keep an eye out for the opening of Da Livios, tentatively scheduled for late January.