Photo: Ella Quittner
On I Sodi’s last night at 105 Christopher Street, you could barely tell that something was up.
A small cavalry of servers dressed tidily in pale-blue button-ups with navy-and-yellow-striped ties, tucked into their shirts between the second and third buttons, presented diners with slices of four-inch-tall lasagna and whole filleted branzinos topped with fried capers. The 16 or so bar seats were occupied by stylish women in linen with Diane Keaton eyewear and finance bros in half-zips and at least one family. There was a negroni on every table. There was the clinking of silverware as it scraped and twisted against the bottom of shallow bowls, uncoiling nests of noodle. The din of low conversation rose through the otherwise silent room, better than a playlist.
But if you looked especially closely, you might’ve noticed the couples ordering a few extra plates of pasta — the cacio e pepe, in its simple gloss of aged cheese and pasta water and irregularly crushed Tellicherry pepper; the lasagna a sugo, with meaty bits calcified against the paper-thin top layer, burnished brown by heat and time; the pappardelle al limone, a silky feat of culinary chemistry — as though unwilling to make an impossible choice. You might’ve seen the back claps and lingering hugs between departing guests and Alex, a doorman and server. Solo diners in dinner jackets on their way out took photographs of the bar, its wooden shelves cradling hundreds of specialty spirits and I Sodi’s house amaro in a bottle with a fading coffee-colored label, set against a matte Carrara marble backsplash. A server brought dessert to a woman seated at a table near the door. Her eyes were full of tears. It wasn’t clear that it was necessarily about I Sodi, and it wasn’t clear that it was necessarily not. There was murmuring among the guests — “They say it’s just two weeks”; “I heard L’Artusi’s moving in … for corporate events”; “Well, I’m fine with it as long as the vibes won’t change” — and then a solemn chorus of “ciao”s before the door to the vestibule slid open, and diners slipped out one final time.
It wasn’t the last night ever for I Sodi, the Tuscan restaurant frequented by diehard regulars as well as the occasional well-read tourist; it was just the last night in its shipping container–size room, where Rita Sodi opened up shop in 2008. It was the final evening in a series of four in a row that Sodi and her partner (in life and business) Jody Williams had sat in the restaurant, working their way through the menu from the insalata verde to the side of “weird slow-cooked peas” that they both love, looking out over what they had built. Over the next few weeks, Sodi and Williams and staff will schlep over the chairs and the tables and the column candles and every last bottle of Barolo 466 feet southeast, to reopen in a bigger space on Bleecker Street.
Photo: Ella Quittner
“There’s a lot of emotion going on,” Sodi told me Friday. “I saw boys become men here. I will cry for sure. And I will cry when I make the first negroni in the new space.” I Sodi has been open on Christopher Street more or less seven nights a week, excluding COVID shutdowns, since she opened. The menu was shorter, then — Sodi wrote it out by hand — and it was a revelation: adroitly composed Tuscan specialties, nothing more, nothing less. “You know how many people said it wasn’t an Italian restaurant? A lot,” Sodi told me. They asked her for fettuccine and Coca-Cola.
Williams remembers the night she met Sodi for the first time at the restaurant. It was her third attempt at dining there. She had aborted her first attempt at the sliding door, embarrassed at the “hideous rattle-rattle” she’d caused trying to open it. On her second attempt, I Sodi was closed. When she finally came by a seat at the bar, she ordered as much as she reasonably could, trying to prolong her dinner as she watched the woman across the bar eat lamb chops straight down to the bone. For some time beforehand, everyone had been telling her, “There’s someone you’ve got to meet.” Separately, they’d been telling her, “You’ve got to eat at this new restaurant.” When I asked what the best thing to come out of a decade and a half in this space had been, both Sodi and Williams pointed to one another.
Sodi recounted a week not long after she opened when her mother came to New York for the first time, and, from nine in the morning until ten at night, cooked with her in the kitchen. Williams used to take French lessons at a corner table, plying her tutor with Sodi’s sugo when she hadn’t completed any homework. One year, Williams borrowed the key to the restaurant while it was closed and cooked Sodi her first American Thanksgiving dinner.
If you let yourself linger in the details, I Sodi’s last night at 105 Christopher Street became, in certain small ways, gutting. There was the scuff mark on the inside of the heavy bathroom door, where the bronze hook fell every time someone unlatched it for the past 15 years. There was the elegant choreography that occurred when two servers found themselves jammed up in the narrow passage between the bar and the tables. The unfussy white plates, the cheese over the top of the paccheri that was grated on the medium holes, not the finest ones. The way one could hear, from inside a bathroom, an entire conversation, verbatim, crystal clear — a server, saying, “We’ve got the risotto tonight, a special,” and then a woman screeching with delight. The flickering column candles that formed a spine of light down the bar. The blunt, delicate Riedel water glasses, the orange leather wine menus. The seat I had sat on when my best friend came out to me over aglio e olio and no one turned to look while we exchanged a three-minute hug. The corner two-top where my husband and I sipped prosecco the night after we got engaged, to a quiet “congratulations” from Chris, a longtime bartender.
Some of which can be carried a block and a half to the new place, and some of which can not.
The new venue has a larger footprint, but won’t have too many more seats. (Disappointing news for the guys who work at McNulty’s Tea & Coffee, a few doors down on Christopher Street, who told me on I Sodi’s last night around 4:10 p.m. — at which point a 22-person line had already formed for walk-ins — that they had yet in all their years there to get a table.) The Bleecker Street I Sodi will, however, have a garden, which Sodi and team spent the prior Friday planting. And Sodi looks forward to a larger kitchen, which will afford the opportunity to bring back dishes she’s had to leave on the cutting-room floor, like one she calls “double-butter pappardelle.”
“Everything’s the same, and nothing’s the same,” said Williams. “And if it’s a little different, God bless, we’ll have more elbow room.” The first thing Sodi plans to cook there, she told me, is her sugo. She nodded her head toward Bleecker Street: “I Sodi is coming with me.”