2017-03-22 / Restaurant of the Week

Via Vai

A visit to Via Vai is virtually a trip to Rome, thanks to Roman-born chef and owner, Antonio Morichini, who brings years of expertise in the kitchens of Italy right here to

Astoria. Leave your passport at home and head to Via Vai on 23rd Avenue where classic Roman fare awaits you, served in a super-charming, rustic dining room featuring a glowing brick oven for their thin crust pizza, a marble-topped bar with fantastic wines and beers, and plenty of cozy seating. Even the attractive wait staff comes from the Eternal City of Rome. Together with Antonio’s wife Cynthia, and their three beautiful children, you will be warmly welcomed to Via Vai and will already start planning your next trip, as Via Vai means “coming and going” in Italian vernacular.

You’ll start with soft, hot, homemade focaccia bread from the blazing brick oven, along with a bowl of fine olive oil infused with a sprig of rosemary. A glass or bottle of superb Italian wine is a ‘must’, while beer lovers will enjoy a brew alla spina, or on tap. My dear friend and I devoured the buttery soft Bufalina mozzarella along with imported prosciutto that just melts on the tongue ($16). The special tuna tartare appetizer was prepared with high quality raw tuna, avocado, and mild herbs with a drizzle of balsamic glaze. We also shared a fresh kale salad tossed with spicy arugula, green apple slices, toasted hazelnuts and finished with a light ginger dressing. There’s also a verdant spinach salad with walnuts and gorgonzola, and a Beet salad with melon and pine nuts. The lasagnetta, or mini lasagna, with fresh pasta, porcini mushrooms, smoked mozzarella and béchamel sauce is one of the most popular starters as are Chef Antonio’s polpette meatballs, which were made with a blend of herbs and topped with homemade tomato sauce that you’ll soak up with warm bread. You’ll need some bread for the fresh, steamed mussels prepared with white wine, fresh lemon and herbs too, and the portions are perfectly sized for sharing ($13).

The intense heat of the brick oven renders Via Vai’s light, crispy pizza, made with homemade dough that bubbles into a crisp crust, topped with fior di latte mozzarella melting 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 ($16). The 12-inch, individual size is perfect for one, or to share as an appetizer. They taste especially good when eaten outdoors at one of the al fresco tables in warm weather. We’re almost there!

Via Vai’s menu changes seasonally to take advantage of the freshest ingredients. Now is a great time to enjoy some hearty pasta dishes, all homemade, and there are whole wheat and gluten-free options, so please inform your waiter about any allergies. Rich lamb ragu cooks for hours and is tossed with homemade pappardelle ribbon pasta for a hearty meal. Handmade gnocchi are light dumplings topped with creamy asiago cheese fondue, porcini mushrooms and pistachio pesto. Orecchiette, or ‘little ears’, are made in-house and sautéed with broccoli rabe pesto, crumbled sausage, and toasted hazelnuts for a unique and hearty dish from the Puglia region of Italy. Toothsome, whole wheat fettuccine are tossed with chunks of tender chicken, sun-dried tomatoes, black olives, and rosemary ($18). There are four classic Roman pasta dishes always on the menu and I urge you try them, including the classic Cacio e Pepe made with Cacio di Roma cheese, butter, and black pepper over taglioni pasta. Nothing can be simpler and more delicious than this dish, and having been to Rome over a dozen times, I can tell you this is the real deal. Vermicelli carbonara is creamy with egg, parmigiano, Pecorino Romano cheese and smoky pancetta bacon for a decadent treat. Pasta Amatriciana and La Gricia are two other classics I’ll be back for.

Main courses include meat, fish and seafood with a fabulous grilled Branzino, a white, flaky fish, beautifully presented with mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus that is perfectly cooked. Braised short ribs of beef with creamy gorgonzola polenta, or pork tenderloin with sage saltimbocca and truffle mashed potatoes are just some of the options along with the nightly meat special, which could be a hefty veal chop Cappriciosa.

Via Vai’s homemade desserts should not be missed. Creamy panna cotta with caramel sauce, zabaglione, or apple honey cake all go well with an after dinner dessert wine or a steaming cup of espresso. Nutella pizza is a big hit with the kids (and adults too).

Visit Via Vai’s website for tantalizing photos and watch video news reports of his cooking, with live demonstrations that will make your mouth water. Any time of year is a great time to visit Via Vai, where a virtual trip to Rome is good for the soul and your stomach. They’re open seven days a week with dinner only on Monday from 4pm, and lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday from 12:30pm. With great food and wines, cozy ambience, and attentive service, a meal at Via Vai is a memorable experience that will have you coming back for more. Salute!

31-09 23rd Avenue
Astoria  347.612.4334

www.viavai-ny.com

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