Susan Rike invited me and a few other food writers to eat at Vai. It is the brainchild of Vincent Chirico (who is tall, dark and handsome) and the newest addition to New York City’s Upper West Side. The restaurant resides in the old home of Taberna on Amsterdam between 80th and 81st and boasts a modern Mediterranean menu.
We started off with the crudo of hamachi and yellowfin tuna ($15). It comes in an avocado and preserved ginger sauce. The fish was of utmost quality. It was fresh and flavorful. It did not fit my flavor profile (it had a bit of sweetness that I’m just not a fan of), but the dish was executed perfectly. I think that this is a dish many people will enjoy.
We moved onto the pan roasted sea scallops ($22). They came with a parsnip mousseline (think of it as a Hollandaise touched with whipped cream or egg whites). The scallops were lovely. They had great texture on the outside and maintained their freshness and juiciness.
The charred octopus was probably my favorite dish of the evening ($11). Octopus is one of those items that can be easily ruined. The octopus has a hint of heat coming in from a jalapeno pesto which was gorgeous. The fingerling potatoes that accompanied the octopus were perfectly prepared. Do not leave the restaurant without ordering this dish.
The beef duo was a crowd pleaser ($30pp). It included a filet mignon and short ribs in a garlic butter. Both meats were flavorful and juicy. I would order this dish again at the restaurant.
There were no complaints about the whole roasted Branzino either ($25). The fish was juicy and flaky. The skin of the fish had a crunch that made me want to devour the entire thing. This is not surprising once you learn that Chef Chirico did his time at both Aquavit, Jean Georges and Daniel.
Finally we arrived at the dessert portion of the evening. Out of all three I tried I could not decide which I liked better. We started with a passion fruit semi freddo; acidity and sweetness intermingled for great balance.The frozen gianduja chocolate mousse with espresso and Mascarpone was sinful. The almond pot du creme was light and satisfying. It was surprising to hear that Chef Chirico also crafted these desserts. He cooks and bakes!
The restaurant is a welcome addition to the neighborhood. That area of the Upper West Side is full of mediocre restaurants. I think Vai fills a big need in the area. On a very positive note, the service at Vai is impeccable. I cannot imagine anyone leaving more than satisfied with the care Vai supplies to their clients. Vai, along with The Tangled Vine, and Recipe have the opportunity to change the dining landscape in the area.
Vai is located at 429 Amsterdam Avenue (Between 80th and 81st Streets) New York, NY 10024 (212) 362-4500