Ever since I fell in love with the portobello mushroom ravioli with the creamy roasted red pepper sauce at Olive Garden back in the day, Italian food has always equaled “celebration” to me.

So naturally when it came time to toast a successful Pitch Slam back in 2017, and again last weekend in NYC, it didn’t take long for me to decide where Will and I would clink glasses. Definitely Emilio’s Ballato.

Emilio’s Ballato is one of those old-school Italian joints where you half expect Michael Corleone to show up. It’s snug with a handful of tables, and they don’t bother with reservations. We’ve learned it’s best to wait outside at 5:00 p.m. when it opens, and we’ve never had a problem getting in for an early dinner. Minutes later, the whole place is bustling, so word is definitely out.

In addition to the attentive service, what’s so great about Emilio’s Ballato is they play the classics exceptionally well. They aren’t offering a “modern spin” on eggplant Parmesan. They’re not trying to dress up spaghetti and meatballs or hoping to wow you with their postmodernist plating. This is classic Italian fare with every flavor exactly on point.

My favorite of the pasta offerings is the linguine with clams. The noodles themselves are totally silky and everything from the abundance of sweet garlic (I mean this in this best possible way, this dish needs all the garlic) to the briny clams and fruity olive oil cling to them perfectly. There’s a bit of freshness from the parsley, and you’re so happy that you just want keep twisting the linguine around your fork and indulging until, sad face, it’s all gone. But those will be the happiest 10 minutes of your life — well, until you get the brilliant idea of dragging a hunk of bread through the remaining “sauce.” That will add an additional two minutes of bliss.

Around this time your secondi will show up, which in my case is always the chicken Milanese. It’s enough thinly pounded chicken for a family of three, maybe four, but Will is always happy to help. Imagine a perfectly seasoned, perfectly breaded, addictively crispy piece of chicken but instead of dunking it in honey mustard or whatever, it was topped by a fresh arugula salad with ripe grape tomatoes, Parmesan and a bracing lemon vinaigrette. It’s such a good combination, the hot and the cold, the rich and refreshing, just more evidence that Italians know what’s up with food.

I can never pass up trying the tiramisu at nearly Italian restaurant we try, so of course, we gave Emilio’s classic varietal a try. It’s so good that Will and I finish it in what feels like mere seconds after it’s presented. It’s got the balance of creamy and boozy just right (not a fan of overly boozy tiramisu), and it’s light as can be — a perfect ending to a decadent meal, particularly with a cappuccino.