Escape the cold and visit Capri


BY Andrea Riquier

If the bleak winter weather — or just the grinding crush of city life — has you down, consider a short trip to Capri. But if airfare is too expensive, try the Capri Caffé on Church Street, where the ambiance and food evoke the warm charm of the Mediterranean island.

Capri is owned by Graziano Lembo and Eduardo Erazo. Lembo is a native of Capri, and Erazo studied cooking in Torino for several years. In 2007 Lembo, who had been working in a restaurant in Midtown while living on John Street, decided to strike out on his own.

The tiny space has only 19 seats and the chefs cook in a galley kitchen separated from the dining room by only a glass counter showcasing pastries, such as olive oil cookies. The unique set-up may be necessary in such a small space but it was Lembo’s plan to have an open kitchen. “It’s more personal, like being in your own kitchen,” he said.

For Lembo, the sense of being at home goes even further. The restaurant features his mother’s recipes for dishes like penne with cherry tomatoes, which he said is the most popular dish on the menu. The cherry tomatoes are grown by his parents in Capri in what he described as “a big backyard,” then canned and shipped to New York. Because the cost of shipping is so high, Lembo must mix the Caprese tomatoes with regular ones, but restaurant patrons still get to taste a little bit of Italy in every bite. Even the walls are Italian – they are adorned with tiles that Lembo imported.

The partners are committed to keeping prices reasonable, which may have contributed to their success during the economic downturn. “The prices are very affordable for the quality I serve,” said Lembo – most entrees range from about $9.95 to $14.95. Lembo said that each year business has been better than the last.

The men love being Downtown, and have watched the neighborhood change in the past few years. Erazo used to work at the San Domenico restaurant in Midtown, which had a sister restaurant in the World Trade Center called Gemelli, where he would occasionally fill in. He remembers the area being “very crowded” before 9/11, and sees it starting to rebound now. Lembo said he is struck by how residential Downtown is becoming.

Most of Capri’s customers are regulars, whether city workers, teachers or lawyers at lunchtime, or neighborhood residents at dinner. Lembo, who is very taciturn, said, “Once they try the food, they come back. I let the food speak for itself.”

Capri Caffe is located at 165 Church Street in Tribeca and is open weekdays from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m., and on Saturdays from noon to 10:30 p.m. For more information call (212) 513-1358.