I’ve been spending more time in the Upper West Side these days and with good reason. With the recent (re)opening of Vai Restaurant, I have even more reason to head back. I was invited to a press dinner to celebrate Chef Vincent Chirico’s move from a smaller space to its new location on Amsterdam between 80th and 81st Street really suits him and the food at Vai.
We started with what was one of the highlights of the meal. Hamachi and yellowfin tuna duo.
It was layered on avocado and floating in a preserved ginger sauce. The sushi grade tuna was delightful – it actually tasted like sashimi at the best sushi restaurant I’ve ever been to. Incredible. The avocado provided a great textual contrast to the fish. This was definitely one of the highlights of the meal and I highly recommend it to anyone who dines at Vai. Next up the Pan Roasted Sea Scallops.
The scallop was fantastic. The seasoning was light and each bite was even better when I included some of the parsnip mousseline that was served with the scallops. A full portion consists of 4 scallops. The surprise of the night came when the Alaskan Roasted King Crab Leg arrived.
Oh boy! The picture might not do it any justice. The king crab was succulent and tasted even better when it was dipped in the brown butter. The side of risotto was amaaaaaazing! I’m definitely not a risotto lover, but I may have been turned out by this meal. I was impressed that it was so rich, creamy and impeccably flavored with a little bit of crab in every bite. It really was a special moment for me. While the rest of the table dined on a Beef Duo of filet mignon and short rib, I was served the Burrata Ravioli.
I was really looking forward to the ravioli. It turned out to be the only misstep of the entire meal. The ravioli was slightly salty. It lacked the precision of every other dish, which was unfortunate. All was forgotten once the desserts arrived. Although he doesn’t serve them as trios on his menu, I plan on ordering them together the next time I’m there. I started with the passion fruit mousse.
It was sweet and delicate. The Almond pot de crème was next up.
It was a shame the pot was so little. The crystallized bits of almond were perfect with the creamy almond creme. By far my favorite dessert was the Frozen Chocolate Mousse.
Holy smokes! It tasted even better than it looks! It was the kind of chocolate dessert that would make even a non-chocolate lover fall head over heels. It was perfectly balanced with the espresso mascarpone. It wasn't frozen so it didn't taste like ice cream. Instead it was the perfect mousse texture and though light, it was firm enough to scoop and give it a swirl in the espresso mascarpone without risk of it falling off my spoon before arriving at it's final destination.
Vai was a marvelous experience. The restaurant is beautiful with recessed lighting and exposed brick. About 20-30% of the menu changes weekly so you can be sure the food you’re eating will be fresh. The outside was covered by scaffolding for a few weeks and now that it’s uncovered, I hope they spruce it up soon. It is on a block of Amsterdam Ave that was dying, but thankfully Vai has helped revive it! They are open for dinner nightly and brunch on the weekends. They must have a loyal following because they were quite busy for a Tuesday night. I look forward to returning soon.