Family Matters

Piccola Strada is the East Village's best-kept secret

It's generally a bad sign for a new restaurant in the East Village to go unnoticed.

But for Piccola Strada, a tiny, nine-month-old slip of a space, its anonymity only increased our delight, as it's one of the most exciting discoveries we've made in months.

Although the restaurant doesn't look like much, its unfussy, delicious Italian fare–and the charms of its owners, sisters Josephine and Esperanza Cipriani–evoke an experience that we'd thought was extinct in this town.

The two were raised in the Dominican Republic, but thanks to the powers of matrimonial transference (they're married to a pair of Italian brothers), their cooking rings of time-tested mastery.

For the lasagna ($14), made fresh daily in limited quantities, pasta sheets act as levees to a wash of slow-cooked meat sauce and béchamel, such that each bite holds a well-constructed balance of flavors.

The sisters raise the meat-marrow quotient in their unorthodox osso buco ($17) by topping the tender beef with more of that time-enhanced sauce. None goes to waste: Plush potato gnocchi quickly soaks up any extraneous juices.

Don't worry about an after-dinner drink: Make nice with Josephine, who oversees the dining room's six tables with jubilant authority, and she'll sneak you a nip of grappa to enjoy with a plate of creamy almond cake ($6).

Piccola Strada, 77 E. Fourth St. (between Second Ave. and Cooper Sq.); 212-674-1557 or piccolastrada.com