Can you hear those sentimental strings of a mandolin in your head? A little Nino Rota soundtrack as you look around for a local spot to eat? If you are looking for your movie version of an Italian restaurant, you’ll find it at Adriana’s Restaurant & Wine Bar on Grand Avenue. With quintessential Mediterranean decor, nattily dressed waiters, and the classic Italian dishes, you don’t have to go to Little Italy in Manhattan, you’ve got it right here. Valentino Stakaj and Federico Agraja – co-owners, chefs and first cousins – bought the restaurant in 2005 and have turned it into a lunch and dinner destination.
The cousins learned cooking together in Rome. When Stakaj was 17 and Agraja was 14 they went to the Tor Vergata university culinary school. After their training they worked in several restaurants in Rome from 1989-2002. America beckoned and they came to try their luck in the restaurants of New York and New Jersey. Stakaj went to Il Mulino in New York City, and Il Capriccio in Morristown, NJ. Agraja started in upstate New York restaurants and then came to work at DiMatteo’s in the Hamden Plaza.
Stakaj joined Agraja and the two bought Adriana’s. In the beginning they started with no language and no experience being owners. By now, with staff who have been with them for several years and their own stamp on the decor, the two are completely at home in the Fair Haven location. (The two also own Antonio’s Pizza in North Haven.)
Stakaj and Agraja were able to give Adriana’s a new look after a fire in the fall of 2008. They closed for six months, redecorated and reopened on April 1, 2009. They made the restaurant more comfortable for the two chefs to work in and put in a bar that quickly became quite popular.
When you go for lunch, expect a dinner-sized portion at a lunch-sized price. It’s a great way to get introduced to the restaurant. One more plus is the secure parking lot right next to the restaurant’s front door.
Valentino says of his diners, “I treat everyone here like my partner.”
Restaurant Website: http://adrianasrestaurant.net/
• The Detes: 771 Grand Ave., New Haven. 203-865-6474. Monday through Friday and Sunday noon to closing (lunch ends at 3:30 p.m.); Saturday 4 p.m. to closing.
• Price Range: Lunch (portions are the same as dinner) $4.95-19.95, dinner $5.95-25.95.
• Style of Food: Italian
• Favorite dishes: Osso bucco, antipasti, insalate, primi piatti, contorni.
• Drinks: full bar
• Vegetarian: yes
• Events: yes, up to 70 people in the larger room
• Catering: yes