We went to the long-awaited Via tonight -- the latest addition to the Ahlquist (Sole Proprietor, 111 Chop House) empire. It's Italian, and on Shrewsbury Street, which is sort of redundant. But Italian like Shrewsbury Street has never seen.
The space is expansive and dazzling, with multiple bars and an open kitchen and a gelateria and a salumeria, and all sorts of different scenes inside. Large windows bring in lots of light from the non-Shrewsbury St side, where they promise to have al fresco dining in a few weeks. A decidedly informal tone is set when you sit down and see the menu...is printed on your paper placemat. But it's a menu that can accomodate just about any mood, I think, with interesting apps and salads, creative but down-to-earth entrees, upscale pizzas, enticing side dishes, and so forth. We decided to make a meal out of a pizza (potato, fontina, romano, herbs), an entree (spit-roasted Tuscan chicken with mushroom risotto), and a side dish (brussels sprouts with pancetta).
From an all-Italian wine list (sorry, no oaky Chardonnays to be found) we chose a nicely-priced ($30) Valpolicella Ripasso.
Ka-ching. It was all terrific. The pizza was wafer-thin and savory, reminiscent of the very best we've had in Italy, and erasing all memories of anything else we've had in New England. It was also so generous we had to stop ourselves before we finished it, to save room. The chicken was nice but outshone by the risotto, which had such a great mushroom thing going on I wondered if they somehow had gotten their hands on some fresh porcini. But it was just the usual mushrooms, beautifully coaxed into showing off. The chicken skin was crisp and the dark meat tender; the breast was dry, but you'll have that. The brussels sprouts were outrageous, green and cooked just right, and studded with LOTS of very crispy pancetta.
Tho' we were full, we had to at least hear about desserts, which led us down the path of a killer orange panna cotta. Lots of other nice choices, not the least of which were about 7 freshly made varieties of gelato.
The tab, including a $30 bottle of wine, for two people who eat like trenchermen and brought leftovers home? $77 before tip. Giddyup. And there were SO many things on the menu that make me want to go back.
The decor is wonderful -- creative lighting, open spaces, etc. The bathrooms have marble slab sinks and real Italian music to wash your hands by. And the service was great -- it seemed as if they had about twice as many people as they needed, perhaps a strategy to open by. We recognized some of the staff from the Sole.
What a great start, what a great space to work with. I went with somewhat high expectations and was blown away. Check it out, and please report what you think.