Dinner at Via Emilia, 2/21/08
Thursday, February 21, 2008 at 6:10PM
The Lady Who Lunches in Restaurant reviews

I remember that morning like it was yesterday. I was on a call, when I was interrupted by my coworker, Melissa, who looked like she had a very important announcement to share with me. I gave her the universal index finger sign to "hold on," and within a minute or two, my phone conversation ended and I was ready to be told Melissa's big news/gossip. "Oh my gosh! Mike and I had the most incredible meal last night at Via Emilia! Have you been?" Not one to get overly excited, Melissa gushed about the restaurant as if she were a young gal talking about her high school crush. Her eyes danced with excitement and she spoke very fast, as if she were nervous and didn't want to forget any details of her "incredible" meal. "That sounds great, Melissa! I've never been, but now I will definitely need to try Via Emilia!" Suddenly, she became very serious, "L, you've got to try this place! Let's plan a dinner and go together! I'd love to go back with you."

Our original Via Emilia
date was planned for January 17th, but we had to reschedule at the last minute. Finally, one-month later, we decided to try planning a dinner at Via Emilia again. Me, Melissa and our other coworker, Linda, decided to meet for an early meal on Thursday, February 21st. In true Lunch Belle fashion, I arrived about 30-minutes prior to our proposed 6:30 p.m. meal, giving me an ample amount of time to study Via Emilia's atmosphere and vibe. The restaurant is housed within a great location in the Flatiron district of the city, on 21st Street between Park Avenue and Broadway. The interior space is shaped like a long and rectangular "L." Via Emilia's entire back wall is home to hundreds, if not thousands, of wine bottles ready to be opened. The ceiling is painted black, making for a calm and soothing atmosphere, but the stark white walls brighten the room with neatly painted stripes of vibrant colors. The jet-black granite bar pops with nail-polish-red leather chairs and chic overhead halogen lamps. Patrons can be seated for their meals in one of the many milky-white tables or red leather banquettes.

After I was greeted by the kind host, I had a seat at the bar. I must have been the only patron in the entire restaurant at 6 p.m. The host brought me a glass of water (without me having to even ask), and I ordered a glass of wine. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw something small and black on the floor. As I looked down, I saw a dying roach on its back with its legs kicking about 100 miles/hour in an attempt to flip itself over and run like hell. I flagged the manager over to quietly inform her of my observation so that no other guest would have to see what I saw. She thanked me and quickly removed the roach from sight. I'd be a liar if I told you that this didn't geek me out in the slightest, but to be honest, I wasn't as horrified as one may think. This is New York City, for God's sake, a town where roaches and rodents reign supreme. I'm not sympathetic about this incident either, but frankly, it is what it is.

Finally, Linda and Melissa arrived and we were seated at a cozy corner table. We were each handed a dinner menu and a wine list was placed in the center of the table. Linda, the grape connoisseur, picked a bottle of Pinot Noir for the three of us to split. After perusing the food menu and getting some culinary pointers from giddy Melissa, we decided to place our orders. To start, we chose to split two appetizers: Gnocco Fritto (translation: puffy fried dough with an airy, hollowed center served with Italian cold cuts) and Polpettine Di Melanzane (in English, eggplant patties with goat cheese). Melissa and I chose the special salad of the evening for our entrees, and Linda went with the Ravioli Con Caprino (sun-dried tomatoes, goat cheese and spinach ravioli with tomato sauce and diced eggplant).

Within moments of ordering our meals, a bread basket arrived. Now we all know that yours truly is trying to watch her carb intake, but I was famished and decided that I must try atleast one or two bites of bread. Shaped like a thick 4-inch-long rectangle, the bread tasted almost exactly like the crust of Pizza Hut's pan pizza...Buttery, crispy, soft, chewy and perfectly salty all at the same time. Trying to restrain myself from eating every last piece of bread in the basket was almost as tough as it was saying bye to my parents prior to leaving for 3-weeks of summer camp...But I did it!

Simultaneously, our appetizers arrived. Each of us took one eggplant patty, and stuffed our gnoccho fritto with a slice of prosciutto. It was time to dig in! My first bite was of the eggplant, which had a crispy fried exterior and a soft and creamy interior laced with lightly textured eggplant and velvety goat cheese. The drizzle of olive oil and balsamic over the patty made for a slightly nutty, earthy, sweet and tangy aftertaste just subtle enough not to overpower the dainty flavors of eggplant and goat cheese. After a couple of sips of wine to cleanse my palate, I took a bite of the gnoccho fritto. If you're familiar with Tex Mex cuisine, imagine a sopapilla that has been stuffed with prosciutto instead of honey. My first bite led me to believe that the gnoccho was fried in lard, as this definitely didn't taste like your typical corn or peanut oil. The golden exterior of the gnoccho was still hot, like it'd just been pulled from the deep fryer, leading to a moist and airy interior enveloping a ribbon of salty proscuitto. What a rich and unique appetizer this was!

Fifteen to twenty minutes later, our entrees arrived. My plate of Romaine lettuce was dotted with thick, white slices of heart of palm, grilled shrimp, shaved parmesan cheese and tossed in a lemony olive oil dressing. The crunchy greens were a nice textural contrast to the soft and salty hearts of palm and crispy, paper thin parmesan cheese. I was impressed with the ample amount of perfectly grilled shrimp, whose flavor was truly highlighted by the citrusy dressing. While I enjoyed my salad, I had a bite of Linda's homemade ravioli and decided that ordering a pasta dish at Via Emilia is absolutely the way to go!

Despite the roach hiccup, I found my experience at Via Emilia
very pleasant, casual and delicious. Was this meal life changing? No, but it's definitely worth a trip back to the restaurant.

Article originally appeared on The Lunch Belle (http://www.thelunchbelle.com/).
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