The air is thick with the scent of wood-fired pizza and olive oil. The dining room, with its soaring windows overlooking Fountain Square, is lively, lovely, and bright. On the short list of downtown restaurants that operate seven days a week, 12 or more hours per day, Via Vite vibrates with an energetic customer base of expense account lunches, late-night revelers, and hotel guests. It might get by on this alone—if an Italian wasn’t running the show. Its executive chef and owner, Cristian Pietoso, is a passionate champion for the cooking traditions of his native Italy. His pizza crusts are canvases for simple ingredients with an old country pedigree—prosciutto crudo and speck, rapini, and spicy sausage among them. His exquisitely judged soups, hearty seafood stew, and citronette-coated arugula salad are a testimony to the virtues of restraint. And in a room full of Italian grandmothers, both Pietoso’s Bolognese sauce and creamy polenta would send them scurrying back to the stove. Via Vite’s presence in my dining life (and subsequently on this list) has fluctuated over the past four years, largely due to inconsistencies both in service and food. But Pietoso and his team hit their stride this past year, making Via Vite the place I have come to count on for a lunch that veers from the ordinary with a few shavings of truffle; for a Sunday brunch that soothes the regret of too much Saturday night with Parmigiano-laced frittata; and for a weekend kickoff with an assortment of salumi and a glass of sparkling on the outdoor terrace.
520 Vine St., downtown, (513) 721-8483, viaviterestaurant.com
Originally published in the March 2013 issue.