Restaurant: Via Vai
- Cuisine: Italian
- Pricing: $$
- What's delicious: Savory flan, pasta, daily fish (branzino) special, desserts
- Perfect for: Neighborhood gem - prix-fixe lunch - live music (call ahead) - al-fresco dining
Located just one block away from where his wife, Cynthia, grew up is Chef Antonio Morichini's Italian gem, Via Vai. Loosely translated to "coming and going" from his native tongue, Chef envisioned a warm and inviting gathering place where folks could come together and enjoy some the most authentic Italian cuisine this side of the Atlantic.
Having received his formal culinary training in Italy, Chef went on to work in a number of Michelin-starred restaurants in Rome and Chiavari, in addition to serving as Executive Chef at establishments in Brooklyn and Manhattan. "I remember becoming inspired to be a chef at age 25 when I first dined at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Rome. I loved the entire experience - the dinner, the service, and the people being happy and loving their food."
As charming and romantic as his culinary story may be, the aesthetics of Chef Morichini's Via Vai come in at a very close second. From the outside, folks who enjoy eating their pizza al-fresco will get a kick out of the outdoor seating located just off of the restaurant's entrance. Floor to ceiling glass doors, with the ability to open up to the elements (NYC weather pending, of course), invite guests indoors to enjoy four beers on tap (one local, one seasonal, at least one Italian, and one domestic) or an authentic espresso at the sleek, marble-top bar.
An Italian-made brick pizza oven overlooks the dining room which is outfitted with leather banquettes and tables made from 100+year old wood tops and refurbished bottoms.
To begin the meal, we started with the seasonal Pumpkin Flan. Served atop a creamy parmigiano fondue with a streak of reduced balsamic sat the savory custard crowned with a delicately-breaded egg yolk. I have to say, my favorite part of this dish was upon cutting in to the breaded yolk and watching it spill atop and along the sides of the flan. Truly, a heavenly culinary experience!
After having learned that Via Vai makes their pasta on the premises daily, we couldn't not order one! Although the Lasagnetta ("mini lasagna") was meatless, the porcini mushrooms, smoked mozzarella, and beschamel made-up for any lack of the dish's traditional "masculinity," if you will, and richness. It was appropriately warm and gooey, creamy, and unctuous.
For my entree, I chose the daily preparation of branzino, a Mediterranean seabass. Aside from the fact that the dish was *almost* too beautiful to eat, the fish was incredibly tender and artfully paired with mashed potatoes that were colored pink with beet juice, and sauteed spinach.
Because the dessert menu listed so many drool-worthy offerings, we had to order two! Both the chocolate soufflé and the tiramisu were perfect - creamy, astonishingly light, and not cloyingly sweet.
Whether you're coming from the neighborhood, another borough, or beyond, Via Vai is that unique kind of NYC Italian restaurant that excels every category, from appetizer and pizza to pasta and entree. And dessert! I am so happy to have been acquainted with this heavenly slice of Italy right in my Queens backyard.
Until we eat again,
The Style Gourmande for The Lunch Belle