The Italian word “viaggio” translates loosely as “let’s travel.”
Let’s not, I say.
Open less than a week, Viaggio has slipped comfortably into the home of The Dining Room at Jack's, where talented chef Tony DiSalvo had been serving a super-upscale menu that featured lots of foam, froth and fanfare.
The new Viaggio menu -- simpler and Italian all the way --makes me want to cry. How can I possibly make a decision between a soft egg yolk and ricotta raviolo – one big, fat, paper-thin pouch that gooshes when you tap it with a fork, or spaghettini with duck-foie gras meatballs and sour cherries? Between bluefin tuna bruschetta that sings with the flavors of the Italian Riviera in summertime, or a quivering panna cotta flecked with black truffles and pecorino.
When asked why he changed the concept of the upscale Dining Room at Jack’s to lusty Italian fare, DiSalvo responded “Because I wanted to cook the food that I want to eat every day.”
Apparently that includes a caprese salad with roasted cherry tomatoes still clinging to the vine and puddles of creamy burrata cheese (at right); “bell”-shaped pasta with shrimp, lobster and crispy bits of guanciale (Italian bacon) in a buttery tomato broth; and pillowy potato gnocchi with prosciutto and pesto.
The new menu features 12 pastas, all made in house; imaginative salads including a roasted beets and arugula number with pistachios and grapefruit (at right); a dozen entrees including lamb chops “scottaditta” with spicy olives and mint; shellfish stew with Thai basil; and a grilled rib-eye steak “Fiorentina”-style. First-course prices range from $10 to $14; all entrees are under $30.
Folks who visited Jack’s upscale dining room in the past will see few physical changes in Viaggio. The same muted grey color scheme is there; the same gauzy fabrics; the same openings in the wall that let in the lively nightlife scene on weekends and the starry sky on warm, clear nights.
A large farmhouse-style table with flowers, olive oils and vegetables has been stationed between the two dining areas in an attempt to convey a more rustic feel. It’s pretty enough but it doesn’t do much to warm up the coolness of the original space.
The atmosphere and service is still a bit too precious for my tastes. But am I going to let that keep me from the mint strozzapretti (short twisty pasta “ropes”) that are tossed with a ragu of rosy, crispy-edged lamb chunks, blinkingly spicy olives and pecorino cheese? Or the heady tiramisu that’s doused with a shot of espresso at the table? Not on your life.
And the remarkable “Summer Vegetable Soup” that features fresh fava beans, diced summer squash and bits of spinach and tomato, all floating in an almost-clear "broth" bursting with tomato flavor? Well, let's just say that whether seated on a Queen’s throne or the curb outside a food kitchen, I’d still think it was the best vegetable soup I’ve ever tasted.
Di Salvo continued his explanation for creating Viaggio.
“I don’t want to just impress people. I want to make them happy.”