Opening the doors on Vicini Pastaria last November was the beginning of chef-owner Dawn Wilson's dream of owning a place to funnel her passions. Drawing from her years as a caterer and private chef, time in central Tuscany learning how to craft handmade pasta and past experience hosting pop-up dinners and cooking classes, Wilson has finally found a home for everything she wants to do in Lafayette Square.
The space seems tailor-made for the concept: Lafayette Square's eclectic mix of restaurants, shops and easy walkability lend itself perfectly to Vicini, where a large window gives passers-by a peek into the world of Wilson, who is often standing making pasta on the other side. The small café where she serves lunch Friday through Monday is petite but airy, thanks to soaring ceilings and abundant light. Customers gather at the small tables each week to partake of the week's specials, which rotate with the seasons, or to grab fresh pasta and a few provisions on their way out. Somehow, the setting transports you, if only for a few minutes, to a different pace than usual. The dishes Wilson is serving are ones worth lingering over.
And it's clear St. Louis has spent some time inside the restaurant's walls: Vicini took home the win for Best New Restaurant in the 2023 Feast 50 Readers' Choice awards. We sat down with Wilson to talk about her successful venture and what's next as she continues to evolve the restaurant.
Vicini Pastaria is the realization of a dream for you. Now that you’ve received widespread acclaim and tremendous community support, how does it feel to be in this moment?
Opening our little pasta shop and café had been a dream of mine for such a long time that I had begun to doubt that it would ever come to fruition. Now that it has, I am beyond ecstatic and incredibly grateful for the support of our community, my friends and most especially my family, who have helped me in so many countless ways to turn that dream into reality. It brings me such joy to be able to share my love of food everyday with both new and familiar faces who seem to truly embrace, appreciate and enjoy the laid-back, rustic and homey experience we are seeking to create.
You've mentioned that “vicini” means neighbors in Italian. How has it been for Vicini to be part of the Lafayette Square community?
We couldn’t have chosen a better neighborhood to open Vicini than Lafayette Square. The unwavering support and encouragement of the neighborhood even through all of our delays has been so incredible and invaluable.
What do you see as Vicini's next phase?
Once we get our liquor license, which hopefully won’t take too much longer, we plan to start offering the classic Italian aperitivo hour with an antipasti spread as well as wine tastings and wine-pairing dinners. We’ll also be adding more cooking classes to our schedule with a wide variety of themes, techniques and types of cuisine. We'll move to a more regular schedule with our Cena con Amici (“Dinner with Friends”) pop-up dinners, which are rustic, authentic Italian dinners served family-style at our communal tables. We'll also begin collaborating with other chefs and restaurants to bring different flavors and cuisines to our Dinner with Friends series.
What do you think sets Vicini apart in the STL dining scene?
Vicini is a humble neighborhood pastaria, café and market with an eclectic variety of offerings and a little something for everyone. At Vicini, we aren’t trying to be fancy, fussy or take ourselves too seriously. We are dedicated to offering a genuine Italian dining experience and simple, delicious food lovingly hand-crafted from the highest quality imported Italian and local ingredients. To craft our food, we rely on seasonal ingredients, a lot of love, the utmost care and the rustic simplicity characteristic of authentic Italian cuisine. We strive every day to create a comfortable, inclusive, welcoming atmosphere that gives guests a chance to escape from the hustle – to slow down, relax and feel like they are just popping over to a neighbor’s or friend’s home to share a meal.
Vicini is open Friday through Monday from 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., with lunch service from 11:30 a.m. until 3 p.m.
Vicini Pastaria, 1916 Park Ave., Lafayette Square, St. Louis, Missouri, 314-827-6150, vicinipastaria.com