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House of friends

House of friends

“House of friends” is the translation for Casa D'Amici, the restaurant that has reopened once again at Downtown Moneta. Owner and manager Gil Smith is determined to make dining there feel like “having dinner at the home of friends.”

Smith described the dining atmosphere as “upscale casual.”

“You can comfortably wear shorts and a T-shirt even though the decor is more elegant than that,” Smith said of dining there in summertime. “Wear what you'd wear to a friend's home.”

Smith is now at the lake full time after retiring last August from a recruiting firm. “That job had me traveling all over the world — 20 different countries in 2017 alone,” he said. “In 2011, I was on the road 47 of 52 weeks.”

Smith made the decision to close Casa D'Amici in 2015 after realizing that the quality of food and service could not be maintained to his standards while he was away so much. He reopened the restaurant during the summer season in 2018 before closing it again for the winter.

Now Smith is staying put and keeping the restaurant open year-round.

“Since I've retired and can stay at the lake, I can give my undivided attention to the dining experience we offer,” he said.

Indeed, Smith is actively cooking and supervising the kitchen, working with head chef Raine Spradlin and greeting diners every night that Casa D'Amici is open — Wednesdays through Saturdays for dinner and Sunday brunch during the off-season, with Tuesday dinner added during spring and summer.

Indeed Casa D'Amici is Smith's labor of love. He designed the space as the centerpiece of Downtown Moneta, a 62,000-square-foot center that includes 19 commercial and 20 residential units.

“I was able to incorporate some design aspects I had noted in prior travels,” Smith said of the restaurant’s interior. “The waterfall, which masks kitchen noise and separates the paths for food leaving the kitchen and dirty dishes returning, I saw at Aquavit Scandinavian restaurant in New York City. The idea for the 400-bottle wine wall was borrowed from a place in Stanford, Conn., and the bar design mimics the one in the U.S. Air terminal at La Guardia.”

Casa D'Amici's booths have high walls to make them cozy and private, and each has its own light level control — brighter for reading the menu and dimmer for dining atmosphere. Umbrella tables on a small front patio, as seen all over Europe, accommodate al fresco diners when the weather cooperates.

Smith is also responsible for the varied menu: 90% of the items on it are his suggestions, which have been inspired by dishes he's enjoyed during his travels. The extensive menu includes hand-cut steaks, seafood selections and nearly a dozen Italian house specialties, as well as appetizers, flatbreads and tacos. The Bolognese sauce used in the restaurant dishes is based on Smith’s mother's recipe. “It was always my request for birthday dinners growing up,” he said.

Meal prices range from $10.99 (fettuccine alfredo) to $32.99 (surf-and-turf with lump crab meat). There are more than 20 items under $15. “We regularly offer specials that aren't on the menu, and we update the menu every six months, keeping the favorites and adding new items,” Smith said. “The goal is for everyone who comes to find something appealing at a price they can afford.”

The crab stuffed onion ring appetizer and shrimp magnolia for dinner — jumbo shrimp stuffed with crab meat and finished with homemade garlic cream sauce — are popular menu items, Smith said.

Casa D'Amici also offers a monthly wine pairing dinner. The dinners are limited to 26 participants, and diners are treated to seven courses with nine different wines. Priced at $75 per person or $140 per couple, the evening's theme is kept secret until guests arrive, Smith said.

“We have a very loyal following for these meals,” Smith said, “but that's true of the everyday dining experience as well. We're getting a significant number of repeat customers, many who come once a week. People are discovering that we're open again, and that the food quality is better than ever before. We're paying attention to the details of making every meal like something you'd enjoy at a friend's house — in fact, there are three private dining rooms for 6 to 15 that are decorated like home kitchens.”

Reservations are suggested, especially for Fridays and Saturdays, but the restaurant can accommodate up to 145 diners. Special events and offerings are posted on Facebook, and the lower level Celebration Room can accommodate groups of up to 150.

For more information, visit casadamicisml.com or call 540-297-6480.

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