Since it opened in 2002, Via Emilia was a restaurant that I used to frequent with frequent regularity. A fan of hearty, sophisticated cuisine of the region of Emilia Romagna–I spent a couple of semesters studying Modern Languages at the University of Bologna right after graduating high school–I became an instantaneous fan of its superb homemade pastas, inspired menu, unpretentious service, and shoestring-like tabs–in the year of its opening it made the New York Magazine’s Best meals for $20 and under.
Since it relocated a few years ago to its snazzier and more importantly: larger location, E. 21St. location, it had slipped off my radar, but a recent visit there with a friend has put it back on there. I like the new space. It’s cheerful and upbeat with colorful blocks of primary colors and tasteful pastels on its tiled walls. The lighting is also tasteful and subdued. The service is casual, but courteous, and I like the fact that the server told my guest and me straight away that the cotechino was not available. Fortunately neither of us had our heart set on wintry sausage, but I appreciated knowing this right away.
My guest and I were both more in the mood to “taste” than full-out dining mode so we decided to share various courses.
We ordered the eggplant polpettine (eggplant dumplings) for appetizer. It was a light, savory, well-executed dish with the soft, delicate textures of gently sauteed eggplant intact. Condiments were just right.
The squid spaghetti with calamari were simply excellent. Sadly the photo below does not do this dish justice. This dish was flavorful and had a supple noodle to condiment ratio. The calamari were fresh, not overcooked and harmonized beautifully with the filleted tomatoes and shitake mushrooms. The only thing worth changing about this dish is its name since it’s made with linguine and not spaghetti.
For the next course, we shared braised branzino with asparagus, which was one of the specials of the day. This was also prepared with high quality ingredients. The branzino was flaky and not overdone, but I was not entirely satisfied with the execution. I found it to be to garlicky and did not think that a bed of mashed potatoes was the best way to present this wonderful fish. I thought it would have been more appropriately paired with a farro grain. While it did not live up to its full potential, it came at reasonable price, in the low $20s.
For dessert we shared the flourless chocolate cake with creamy mascarpone. It was an absolute treat and ideal for sharing because of its richness. The pairing of mascarpone cream with the flourless chocolate cake proved well conceived as the cake had a mild acidic bite to it and the mascarpone neutralized it without leaving a cloyingly sweet aftertaste.
We drank wine by the glass from a wide list of wines from Emilia Romagna. On the server’s recommendation, I ordered the Trebbiano di Romagna. I was looking for something light and crisp. It turned out to be lovely and I requested a second glass. My friend ordered a dry spumante, and was also pleased.
All in all, Via Emilia is a great casual place to go to for an affordable and above-average Northern Italian meal.