At least Spring has arrived SOMEWHERE, because it surely hasn't hit the rest of NYC yet. My dinner at Vai Spuntino Bar last week was full of fresh fish, bright herbs, and clean flavors. Chef Vincent Chirico does a wonderful job of incorporating this seasons ingredients into the menu, and nothing was ordinary; from the bread to the dessert, everything had a little flair to it. The plates are meant to be shared and paired with flights of wine. That'll put a spring in your step, eh?
The bread arrives warm at our table with roasted garlic cloves, eggplant mousseline with turkish pepper, and salted cod with shaved toasted garlic for spreading. Talk about a palate pleaser – I probably could make a meal out of just that. Then to lighten things up, the hamachi/tuna duo with ginger, avocado and microgreens was a perfect appetizer and so fresh.
One of my favorite dishes of the night was the crab cakes with caper sauce, turkish pepper and pickled red onions. The sauce was salty thanks to the capers, and if I had to describe it I would say it's like a classy tartar sauce. The crab was flaky, light and delicately breaded, not heavy or mushy like some crab cakes are - and look at those colors! Pink, green, cream…food is kind of like a work of art, so if I had to name this masterpiece, I would entitle it: "Spring on a Plate".
How about some Spring (and speck) in your salad? Watermelon, tomato, goat cheese cream, and crunchy pieces of speck drizzled with balsamic vinegar and olive oil; this salad was a more savory twist on the classic watermelon/feta salad. Another bright, beautiful dish that begged to be photographed…and then quickly eaten.
The fish at Vai Spuntino Bar is a big part of the menu, and rightfully so – the King Crab legs were so meaty, all they needed was a squeeze of lemon. The olive oil poached halibut was my least favorite, but only because the meyer lemon sauce was very acidic and bitter; the fish itself was cooked perfectly. If you're a little less adventurous when it comes to fish, the rock shrimp in sofrito and herbs was buttery and tasty.
Speaking of buttery, let's talk about these pastas. One of them was basically a pool of melted butter with a few strips of pasta on top and covered in parmesan cheese. I mean, after a couple glasses of wine I'm not one to complain about that, but it was very heavy. Maybe too much of a good thing. It did have ramps in it though, so at least there were SOME greens present. I didn't realize that ramps (part of the green onion family) were only in season a couple months out of the whole year! That explains their omnipresence lately. I liked the buratta ravioli in truffle cream sauce with mushrooms better; while also on the heavy side, it wasn't as greasy so I'd probably classify it as "rich and decadent".
You've read all about fish, but where's the beef?? I grew up in a meat and potatoes kind of house, but never did we make slow cooked short ribs over fingerling potato puree. I saw the cast iron skillet come out and immediately thought it was braised short ribs over polenta, but no. There's that flair again. The meat was so tender and flavorful, but the potatoes were a little runny even though they had a nice taste.
The only thing missing from this meal was something chocolate. We had a passion fruit semifreddo for dessert which was fine, but passion fruit is very tart and this dessert was somewhat "refreshing". You know what's my version of refreshing? Molten chocolate cake. If they add that to the menu, I may have to move in…