2016-03-16 / Restaurant of the Week

Via Vai

Via Vai is an absolutely charming, authentic little slice of Italy, thanks to Roman-born Chef Antonio Morichini and his lovely wife Cynthia. Via Vai is an Italian expression to describe people coming and going, and you’ll want to come here and I can’t wait to go back!

Via Vai opened a year and a half ago in Astoria, on 23rd Avenue, just steps from the Ditmars Blvd. station. The cozy, calming interior is beautifully furnished with a gorgeous marble-topped bar, hefty wood tables and a long, leather banquette for intimate dining and family dining. Indeed, your children are very welcome here and they might even meet the three Morichini children who love the pizza and pasta. Authentic masks from Venice and beautiful, original art work adorn the walls and complete the feeling of being in a local trattoria in Italy. On an unusually warm evening in March, the outdoor tables were already full of Astorians soaking in their memorable meals al fresco. Chef Antonio has worked in many regions of Italy at some impressive, Michelin-rated restaurants and brings his expertise to every dish. The menu covers Italy’s famous regional dishes and everything is made from scratch here, from the pizza dough, to the pasta and gnocchi, and to the desserts too. Visit their website to watch video news reports of his cooking with live demonstrations that will make your mouth water.

Settle in with a glass of superb Italian wine sold at reasonable prices by the glass or bottle. Italian Moretti beer is available alla spina or on tap. Manuele, our charming waiter brought us some focaccia warm from the pizza oven, and aromatic olive oil for dipping while we contemplated the choice of appetizers. The lasagnetta, or mini lasagna with fresh pasta, porcini mushrooms, smoked mozzarella and béchamel sauce is one of the most popular starters and with good reason. We shared an order of Chef Antonio’s polpette meatballs which were made with a blend of herbs and topped with homemade tomato sauce that rivals your grand-

mother’s. House cured salmon is finely chopped and blended with capers, shallots and avocado for a fresh, inventive dish that’s perfect for sharing. Steamed mussels with white wine, fresh lemon and herbs needs only a fork and lots of bread to soak up the savory juices ($12). Buttery mozzarella di buffalo is served with paper-thin slices of prosciutto for a plate that exemplifies Italian cuisine.

Order a salad for the table where you can choose among the Siciliana with vibrant radicchio, orange wedges, pistachios, olives and fennel, or the Rape Rosso with roasted beets, arugula, melon, pignoli nuts and goat cheese with zesty dressing. Any of Via Vai’s salads pair well with one of their brick oven pizzas, made to order and served piping hot. Order one to share as a first course, or have one as your dinner, but do try one. When it comes to pizza, I’m somewhat of a purist, and so my favorite is the Margherita, named for the Queen of Napoli. The homemade dough bubbles into a crisp crust in the oven’s super hot temperature, allowing the Fior di latte mozzarella melt over the smattering of tomato sauce and fresh basil leaves. You can add prosciutto to this pie, or maybe you prefer the sausage and mushroom or the Capricciosa with artichokes, prosciutto, olives, hard-boiled egg and mozzarella ($15). One of the house specialties is the Fichi with fragrant gorgonzola, fig marmalade, prosciutto, arugula, and truffle oil.

Via Vai’s pastas are all homemade and there are whole wheat and gluten-free options so please inform your waiter about any allergies. We devoured the creamy risotto with artichoke hearts, goat cheese, and fresh mint, served in a lovely terra cotta platter. The TV news video demonstrated the making of Chef Antonio’s pappardelle ribbon pasta with a white lamb ragu with asparagus and truffle oil that is simply out of this world! Orecchiette or ‘little ears’ pasta are made in house and sautéed with broccoli rape pest, crumbled sausage, and toasted hazelnuts for a unique and hearty dish from the Puglia region of Italy.

Secondi or second courses include a fabulous branzino served with two beautifully intertwined filets of this white, flaky fish, along with rosettes of piped mashed potatoes, grilled asparagus, and sautéed spinach....wow! Braised short ribs of beef with creamy gorgonzola polenta, or pork filet tenderloin with sage saltimbocca are just some of the options along with the nightly meat special.

Save room for one of the homemade desserts, such as the creamy tiramisu, panna cotta, zabaglione, chocolate cake, or Nutella pizza, which is a big hit with the kids. Have an espresso or coffee with your dessert for an extra helping of La Dolce Vita.

Via Vai is open seven days a week with dinner only on Monday, lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday from 12:30pm to 10:00pm and a traditional Sunday Pranzo a famiglia where the whole family enjoys a traditional Italian Sunday lunch from 12:30-3:30 for just $28 per person for a multi-course meal with dessert. Via Vai offers delicious, traditional Italian cuisine made with lots of love. The atmosphere is warm and friendly, and the company is delightful. Buon apetito!

31-09 23rd Avenue
Astoria  347.612.4334


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