I’ve been avoiding writing this post for a while. A long while. Why? Because I haven’t wanted to share “my” favorite neighborhood Italian restaurant with anyone. Which is stupid, really, when you consider that it’s usually full. On a weeknight. Clearly, people already know about it – and, like me, they keep coming back for more.
I still remember the first time I visited Via Milano; Chef Paolo came flying out of the kitchen with tears in his eyes, begging me not to desecrate my Frutti de Mare pizza with the fingernail-sized piece of Gorgonzola I’d asked for. I insisted, he deferred – and I’m sure some poor, unsuspecting cut of meat saw the wrong end of his cleaver that afternoon. I’m surprised he still serves me.
Other Than The Food…
Before I get to the food – which is consistently satisfying – I’d like to take a minute to tell you why Via Milano is so dear to my heart:
- It’s the kind of place where I’m comfortable visiting dressed either in a cotton T-shirt or a silk kurti, on impulse or with a reservation, with kids or without.
- Everyone from the bartender to the owners (Carl Ferns, Roger Hessing, and aforementioned Chef Paolo Nonino) greet regulars by name and genuinely listen to – and often care enough to implement – your inputs.
- The décor is casual but not sloppy, smart but not intimidating.
- The menu is changed often enough for variety but not so often that you can’t find your favorites.
- The service is friendly and well-informed; no-one is afraid to say, “I don’t know, let me check.”
- The bread basket is delish, and you get as much as you like.
- They mix a kickass martini.
- It’s one of the few restaurants where the music complements the ambience. No segueing into Madonna (I ♥ Madonna, anyone will tell you I do!) halfway through the meal.
I have heard a couple of folk complain that the portion sizes at this restaurant are small. I want to say at the outset that I have never – and I mean never – left Via Milano feeling anything less than totally stuffed. If you have an appetite the size of mine (extra large), a good rule of thumb is to order a pasta, risotto, or red meat dish if you are hungry, and chicken or fish if you’re not. If you’re ravenous, load up on the yummy breads, add on a starter and refuse to share it with anyone; the starters are meant for one person with a me-size appetite; or two human beings with more normal digestive abilities.
Remember, this is an Italian restaurant – they don’t gorge themselves on big kebab platters before gorging on biryani over there, y’all! Antipasti (meaning before-the-pasta) are meant to be nibbly little snacks, not mini-meals.
We began our most recent meal there with three starters: fried buffalo mozzarella and zucchini rolls with tomato sauce (an every time-we-visit favorite); rucola-marinated beef carpaccio with mushroom and parmesan flakes; and a baby octopus and potato salad that we had never tried before. Shared between the four of us (yeah, we’re cheapies!) the photo alongside shows what you get. Just about enough to whet the appetite.
Whether you’re a vegetarian or not, I recommend the mozzarella and zuke rolls. They are crisp on the outside and gooey on the inside, not too oily, and the tomato-based sauce will make you want to lick your plate in the most unbecoming fashion imaginable.
I prefer my carpaccio dressed with slightly stronger flavors. Via Milano’s flavors were too subtle for my palate, and because the beef was still chilled when it was served, its flavors hadn’t really been released when we ate it. Technically perfect, but bland overall.
The sauteed octopus and potato salad were a pleasant surprise. I have never eaten baby octopus with the texture of butter before. I’ve tried ’em in Japanese cuisine, and they’ve been crunchy; tried ’em steamed, and they’ve been somewhat chewy. These were tender. The gently herbed potato in extra virgin olive oil was a perfect complement to the cephalopods in texture as well as flavor. We all loved it.
Primo e Secondo
Our entrees arrived. I’d opted for a Crab Taglioline. The taglioline (a tagliatelle that is slim and cylindrical rather than ribbon-shaped) was al dente, just the way I like it, and sauce was perfect – thick, sweet yet tangy, tasty. Sadly, though, there’s only the barest hint of crab meat to be found. Perhaps it is thoroughly integrated into the sauce, thus explaining its rich flavor. Nevertheless, the lack of meat to bite into makes me somewhat, er, crabby.
The Spouse has ordered a Veal Saltimbocca. Literally translated as “jumps in the mouth”, a saltimbocca is supposed to be bursting with multiple flavors – prosciutto, meat, herbs. Although it’s one of those classical dishes, I myself am not fond of saltimbocca, because I believe that cured hams like Parma and Serrano should be eaten raw, or grilled atop a pizza at best. In this case, however, The Spouse enjoys every morsel of his meal. His verdict: the meat is, as always, tender and moist, the gravy rich and flavorful, it’s great. Despite all his uncharacteristic gushing, though, the saltimbocca doesn’t measure up to Via Milano’s culinary masterstroke – Veal Scallopine in gorgonzola cheese sauce. Far from being a negative reflection on the saltimbocca, this is a glowing paean to the scallopine – deserving of a post all its own.
Giant Vacuum Cleaner and Mr. Small shared their mutual favorite – a Parma ham pizza. I can never resist a Via Milano pizza, and often fantasize about the Frutti de Mare (that’ll be with a pinch of gorgonzola, thank you, Paolo!). The Parma ham comes a close second. The crust is crisp and golden, the sauce just enough to add a base flavor without overwhelming the topping, the cheese bubbly and stringy. And the ham is paper thin and not overcooked. If your kids are going to eat pizza anyway, this is the kind you want to feed them. They can tell the difference, believe me – don’t assume their palates are unsophisticated.
Unbelievable, we had room for dessert (well, maybe not so unbelievable. We always do). Giant Vacuum and I ordered Dark Chocolate Mousse. Each. It arrived resembling three scoops of ice cream on a plate. Delectable, great texture, with just a hint more mocha than I, personally, like.
Mr. Small ordered something new – Caramelized Cream. Nope, not a pannacotta. This consists – as stated – of a large dollop of cream that has been caramelized, topped by a crust of hardened caramelized sugar, with a few artfully placed embellishments. It’s served with a cherry and strawberry sauce. The whole is delish; not too sweet – but rich as sin.
The Spouse, in a rare display of gustatory derring-do, ordered an Apple and Almond Mille Feuilles with Straciatella Icecream. Now a true mille feuille (pronounced MEE FWAY, and meaning “a thousand sheets”), is supposed to be layered and contain a filling. Via Milano’s version is very thin, and the filling is placed atop the pastry instead of inside it. It is un-fucking-pardon-my-French-believably good. The straciatella would be fantastic on its own, too. This is the best dessert on their menu, and the most refreshingly different one I have tasted in a long, long while.
Should you visit? Hell, no. It’s MINE MINE MINE MINE MINE.
Ft. Rd.- Ft. Rd. Junction