As local chefs go, Cristian Pietoso is one of my superheroes. When he arrived in 2004 from Florence, Italy, the conversation changed. After marching Nicola’s Ristorante into the dining Promised Land, he and father Nick turned their attention to building Via Vite into an urban community crossroads with an approachable menu of truly remarkable Italian recipes, both rustic and voluptuous.
Each dish succeeds largely due to Pietoso’s commitment to quality ingredients and his ability to make them sing. Seasonal produce accompanies large plate preparations of fish and meats; during our fall and winter visits, butternut squash, parsnips, mushrooms, and Brussels sprouts came creamed, pureed, sautéed, and caramelized. The overnight braised lamb shank rising from a bed of creamy polenta is a must during the chilly comfort food season (though I can rarely pass up a small side bowl of the polenta dosed with the lamb jus in any season). And Pietoso’s cioppino—a sexy fish stew—produces the sort of euphoria I misspent my youth chasing. (If only I had known.)
Via Vite’s interior captures the essence of the city with soaring windows in the main room and an outdoor terrace overlooking Fountain Square, a great place to gather for lusty red wines and thin-crusted pizzas during happy hour. The only stumbling block here is consistency in service. Busy event nights tend to bog down the kitchen or trip up even the best of their service staff. But as a rule, tutto bene.
520 Vine St., downtown
Not ranked since 2009
Photograph by Ryan Kurtz
Originally published in the March 2011 issue.