Creekstone skirt steak with heirloom peppers and baby spinach at Vai
Local organic chicken for two with Tuscan kale and fingerling potatoes at Vai
Charred octopus at Vai Restaurant
Hamachi tuna and spaghettini with gulf shrimp
After an earlier incarnation on W. 77th Street closed due to condo construction, Vai Restaurant is back on the Upper West Side, continuing its eight-year tenure serving contemporary Mediterranean food to carb-eschewing yuppies. Owner/Chef Vincent Chirico of “Knife Fight” fame got his bona fides working in the kitchens of Jean-Georges Restaurant, Aquavit, Daniel and Union Pacific. The intimate new space is clean and unadorned, with 14 tables and a half-dozen bar stools around the semi-circle bar. It’s planted on a brick wall mid-restaurant, with a large mirror reflecting fishbowl sconces on chains, featuring flickering votives. The food is similarly solid and unfussy, if a bit on the higher end, with many off-menu, seasonal additions available. During a recent visit, we enjoyed the featured cocktails, the Blackberry Paloma ($14) blending tequila, grapefruit and blackberry, and the simple Elijah’s Maple Sour ($15), a mix of Elijah Craig Bourbon and Hudson Valley Maple syrup. The hostess brought an amuse-bouche of savory eggplant mousseline and soft bread to dip it in. Chirico is known for his crudo, so we sampled a layered Hamachi-Yellowfin Tuna Duo ($17) with two generous lobes of yellowfin over a tartare of pink tuna and fresh avocado.
A tang of ginger and cilantro enlivened the whole affair. We paired this with the charred octopus ($16.5) a tender tentacle of grilled ‘pus over roasted fingerling potatoes and a bright green jalapeno pesto, with slivers of dry-roasted garlic scattered atop. For entrees, the spaghettini Florida Gulf shrimp ($28) with preserved lemon and Calabrian chili paired well with the Creekstone Farm skirt steak ($29)—a DIY surf and turf, if you will. The lemon in the pasta brought top notes of the ruby red shrimp up, and the steak was properly pink inside, scorched outside, and served over roasted heirloom red peppers, onions, and baby spinach. A bright green chimichurri accented the hangar steak nicely, but for the price, a side of potatoes or rice would not have been out of order. Dessert needs were sufficiently met with a tasty puck of cheesecake with berries, and a milk chocolate tart with coffee crème. Chef Chirico became a downtown fixture in 2011, after opening Vai Spuntino Bar in SoHo.
After a year of struggles, he is now set to open another new restaurant on W. 13th Street, despite Community Board 2 fighting him every step of the way, saying there wasn’t enough ventilation to cook. His workaround? Serving almost all raw dishes at a place called simply, Raw. He even did a summer series on CBS, showcasing recipes requiring no stove or oven. This ingenuity will serve him well downtown, where the diners are often hungrier for innovation than anything else. But for the flocks of UWS denizens returning again and again to Vai Restaurant, a high price tag won’t likely deter them from enjoying Chirico’s simple, well-prepared dishes.
BY TIME OUT COMMUNITY REVIEWER: WINNIE MCCROY
429 Amsterdam Ave
|Cross street:||between 80th and 81st Sts|
|Opening hours:||Daily 5pm–midnight|
|Transport:||Subway: 1 to 79th St|
|Price:||Average main course: $19. AmEx, Disc, MC, V|
|Do you own this business?|