Located right at the end of the N/Q in Astoria is an amazing Italian joint called Via Vai (translation: Coming and Going).
I was invited here for a free press dinner, but I can tell you honestly that this is some of the best Italian food around – especially the pizza. The flavors are not hidden with grated cheese or pepper on top at this place. You’re dealing with naked and natural dishes made from top quality ingredients. Everything comes to the table already nicely seasoned, and with great cooking technique there is no need for extra grated cheese or cracked pepper.
The first thing I noticed was that the staff can all speak Italian. In fact both people we met were from Italy. Valentina was from Genoa, and Manuel was from Rome. The crowd was good too; a full house by 7:30pm. Lots of neighborhood regulars were coming in, and the staff was eager to greet them. They even waved to people walking by on the streets – more neighborhood regulars that they know by name and sight. In fact the people next to us had clearly been there before, based on the conversation I overheard. They also spoke constantly about how great their pasta, shrimp and grilled veggies were. It seems like they had a great meal just like we did.
We started with some drinks: a Picus red wine, which was a nice blend of sangiovese and montepulciano. Very smooth. We also had a Staten Island hefeweizen from Flagship. It was the filtered wheat style: good flavor.
The first thing that our lovely waitress Valentina brought to us was this plate of warm flatbread foccacia, which was like a pizza crust that was ever-so-lightly salted. It was served with olive oil that had a garlic clove and a rosemary sprig in it. Light. Perfect. I could eat this shit all day.
Next up was a pizza, fresh from the brick oven:
While I’m more of a traditional margherita pizza guy, this shit was so fucking good that I could see myself having this shit at least two or three times a week. A light, airy dough is made in house and allowed to rise for 48 hours. It gets crispy, soft, fluffy and absolutely perfect in terms of texture. This particular pie was topped with a fig marmalade, prosciutto, gorgonzola, truffle oil and arugula. This was Valentina’s favorite pizza on the menu, and Manuel told us that this is how he used to eat pizza in Rome.
Next up was polpette (meatballs). The sauce was chunky and fresh, nicely seasoned. The balls were very soft, and made from all beef, which I like. Lots of times the pork, veal and beef mixtures can get too dense. I tend to be a picky meatball guy and I really liked these. I still like my mom’s better because she fries them in a pan first to give them a crispy crust before plopping them in the sauce – so you get crispy outside and soft inside.
Then we got to try this really interesting gnocchi special. The purple color is from the beet and ricotta based pasta dough (all pasta is made fresh in house). The sauces on top were twofold: parmesan fondue porcini mushroom. The dish was then finished with some truffle oil and crushed hazelnuts. This was unique and very different, and stunningly gorgeous to see in person. They were like pasta bubble gum balls. I didn’t really taste any beet, but the flavor was really good.
Last, we had some kickass desserts. The absolute best panna cotta I’ve ever had. It was insane. Realllllly smooth and creamy consistency. The texture was flawless. Not overcooked at all. It was like creme brulee but not as eggy, not too sweet.
Last was tiramisu. This was super light and whipped, with cocoa sprinkled on top. There were thin layers of cake between the ricotta, and there was just a light hint of coffee flavor, which I appreciated (I’m not into heavy coffee flavors in dessert).
Clean bathroom too – that is always important!
My wife and I came back here to try out their brunch/lunch options. They offer a great deal where you get two entrees/items and a dessert for $28. This is probably enough to split between two people, but my wife and I each did our own to maximize the items we wanted to try out.
Our “starters” were a spinach and egg pizza, and a spinach and asparagus crepe. The pizza was great, once again. The egg really brought home the breakfast feel, and Manuel even drizzled some truffle oil over the top to give it an earthy punch.
The crepe was light and fluffy, and thicker than one might expect when hearing the word “crepe.” It was somewhere between an omelette and a crepe, I would say. It was covered with a light tomato sauce and filled with cheese, spinach and asparagus. Beautiful to look at, and even better to eat. This was a perfect brunch item.
We tried two pasta dishes for the “entrees.” First was this bucatini carbonara. Bucatini, if you don’t know, is a thick spaghetti that has a hole through the center, like a straw. The sauce was nice and creamy without being too heavy. The portion size was great for the price, and the onion, pancetta and seasonings were all top notch.
The other pasta dish was a rigatoni alla grecia, which was similar to the carbonara but without the creaminess. This ate much lighter, but both dishes contained perfectly cooked pasta that was just the right amount of al dente.
By then we were full, so we brought some of the pasta home with us, but we couldn’t pass up on the dessert. We shared the panna cotta, which we knew that we loved from our earlier visit. I had forgotten how smooth and creamy this was. Just perfect. This time the plating was a bit nicer too, with some orange slices and pistachios.
I highly recommend this place, especially for the pizza and pasta.
31-09 23rd Ave.
New York, NY 11105