Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Go to Vai

Vai Restaurant (Press Photo) 
I was invited to try out Vai, a contemporary Mediterranean restaurant in the Upper West Side that opened last October. I walked into the intimate yet casual dining room and immediately felt that tonight was going to be special. Chef Vincent Chirico has orchestrated an entire dining experience from top to bottom. He's not only the Owner and Executive Chef, but he also created the wine list, the cocktails, the desserts AND is responsible for the decor. I love that this restaurant is the entire vision of the Chef and that he shapes the entire concept around his signature food.

I was immediately greeted by our lovely server Anays and a cucumber martini made from gin infused cucumber mixed with fresh cucumber and lime juices. As I write this, it occurs to me that it could have been a bit incongruous with the cold winter weather, but instead of feeling too summery, it served as the perfect palette cleanser and opener.

Shortly thereafter, the bread arrived with a trio of roasted garlic, eggplant puree, and cranberry bean salad. They said they don't make the bread in house, but you could've fooled me since it tasted fresh out of the oven. They must get a daily supply.

Bread with Trio of  Accompaniments
The first course was the hamachi and yellowfin tuna duo served over avocado with preserved ginger sauce. The ginger sauce gave it a hint of sweetness that you don't find in your typical tuna tartare. What a great, light way to start a meal. (Note that since we were doing a tasting menu, this portion is about half the size of the normal serving.) This was paired with a Sparkling Rose from Modelet. I am ALL about the Sparkling Rose right now, so they were already winning me over with this choice.

Hamachi & Yellowfin Tuna Duo
For the second course, we were treated to pan roasted sea scallops with parsnip mousseline and sicilian capers with a Pinot Grigio from Raxmalto. This course was very elegant. The parsnips and capers were mild and didn't overshadow the subtle flavor of the scallop.

Pan Roasted Sea Scallops
On to the third course, charred octopus with jalapeno pesto and crisp fingerling potato served with a Pinot Noir from Relativity Vineyards. This dish was HOT. Even, I, the Queen of Spice, thought this dish had some serious kick- so if you are not a spicy food eater- stay away. But if you like a nice kick in the pants, do not miss this dish. Surprisingly, the real heat doesn't come from the jalapeno pesto, but from the calabrian chili-garlic. (Note that this is the same chili-garlic in the spaghetti in New Zealand cockles). The octopus was tender and crunchy and not a bit chewy.  I would be tempted to proclaim this my favorite dish of the evening...

Charred Octopus
But then came the Burrata Ravioli with truffle cream and parmiggiano paired with a Monastrell from Lavia. Salty, creamy, and cheesy with that magic flavor of truffle. This is the dish I would bring The Mr back for.
Burrata Ravioli
Then came out the whole roasted branzino with preserved lemon, chervil, and buerre noisette. Today at lunch was my first time to eat branzino and I was happy to return to such a mild, delightful fish.

Whole Roasted Branzino
The beef duo of filet mignon and short rib with confit garlic butter were a fantastic ending to the meal. The short rib was braised in port wine and was so tender that I didn't even need a knife.

Beef Duo

By this time we were incredibly satisfied, so it was the perfect time to wrap up the evening with dessert.    We enjoyed a sweet Passito wine from L'Ecru with our, not one, but three delectable dishes. An almond pot de creme (which is served at the end of every meal), a passion fruit semifreddo, and a frozen chocolate mousse.  While the chocolate mousse sounds like the most boring of three, it stole the show. It had an amazingly, rich and creamy texture and was perfectly highlighted by the mascarpone, espresso sauce.

Almond Pot de Creme,
Passion Fruit Semifreddo,
& Frozen Chocolate Mousse
At about this time I was about to compliment our fabulous server Anays on her blouse and ask her where it was from, when I realized that ALL the servers were wearing them. I still gave Anays the compliment and she told me that Chef Vincent had picked those too! So he can cook, mix drinks, decorate AND has fashion sense? Man, I had to meet this guy. Finally, we got to meet him and of course, he is tall, dark and handsome. But don't just take my word for it:

Chef Vincent Chirico
(Press Photo)
Sorry ladies, he's got a girlfriend. But there's no reason you can't go enjoy his food at Vai.

*My meal was provided by the restaurant as part of a Press Dinner.

Vai on Urbanspoon

Update: I also just found out that when the weather warms up they will add an additional outdoor cafe- so add this to your list of outdoor dining finds for this summer!

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