I can't count last Wed's pre-opening party as my first visit, since it was such a scrum I barely got anything to eat (though the margherita pizza I did get was wonderful, thin wood-oven crust with lots of barely cooked garlic slices).
A proper sit-down meal in the larger of two dining rooms begins with excellent olive oil, a garbanzo spread, and good olives, with decent Tuscan bread. We try the house Campari Cocktail (vodka, Campari, grapefruit juice served straight up in a cocktail glass), which looks Cosmo-ish, but tastes more grown-up, not sickly sweet, without seeming as potent as a Negroni or what it most closely resembles, a vodka-based version of No. 9 Park's Number 10.
Appetizers: an excellent, very chunky minestrone with a gorgeous chicken stock, served in a pretty oblong bowl, one of the better versions of this standby I've had in a while. The other is a fried eggplant dish with swirls of pesto and tomato sauce, nice and crunchy, highly reminiscent of Via Matta's signature app.
Entrees: a full order of orecchiette done in a Sicilian (I believe) style, a bit Moorish with raisins, pignoli, a sharp cheese (Romano?) and white anchovies. This is delicious and perfectly al dente, but I could stand a few more anchovies. Also, a full order of a truly wonderful tagliatelle Bolognese, very rich and complex and a bit cheesier than most (though an unannounced substitution of linguine would be a trifle annoying if it weren't otherwise so good).
We wash these down with a couple of glasses of the same Chianti Classico served at the pre-opening party, reasonably priced and serviceable. No real room for dessert.
Service is pretty smooth for the first open-to-the-public night. I like the simple, spare gray and ivory color scheme, and the hard chairs are actually quite comfortable. They should lose the cheap-looking framed astronomy photos, though. The room is going to be pretty loud when it's packed to the gills.
Best of all are the prices: this quite filling and lovely meal comes to about $95 inclusive, very nice by neighborhood standards. (Tuna, steak, and lamb entrees are $23-25, everything else is $20 or under.) I wonder how long they will keep prices this low. Full bar, sidewalk seating outside on Washington St, and dinner till 1:30am seven nights.
A very solid first impression.