VAI SPUNTINO BAR
The very definition of the word ‘cozy’, Vai Spuntino Bar is perhaps the best location in Soho if what you seek is an intimate atmosphere to sample some exceptional wines and innovative cuisine. After having established an Upper West Side destination in Vai, chef/owner Vincent Cherico has now decamped downtown with a more ambitious venture, featuring a menu chef de cuisine Gregory Torrech describes as “more elaborate, finer foods” which involve “more technique involved” in their execution. The combined wealth of experience each brings to the table (after interning abroad with George Blanc, Paul Bocuse and Michel Gerard, Cherico served as right hand man to such New York institutions as Daniel Boulud at Daniel, Marcus Samuelsson at Aquavit, and Jean-Georgres Vongerichten at JoJo; Torrech arrives after stints including 6th Street Kitchen, Allen & Delancey, Etats Unis and Dos Caminos) has produced a restaurant with an abundant array of tastes on offer.
The concept is a menu of small plates, which, as they are not so small portioned as one may have come to expect in places with a tapas emphasis, allow for dining parties of two or more to amply share any number of dishes. Meals begin with fresh miniature baguettes, accompanied by seasonal dipping spreads such as eggplant mousseline, garlic confit and baccala with olive tappenade. What to progress with from there is up to diners, but be sure to select something from seafood selections, which run the gamut from raw, “lightly cooked” and “slow cooked” preparations. Examples include a variety of crudos, such as an exceptional hamachi/tuna duo with preserved ginger; a wonderful ceviche of arctic char with jalapeno, lime, and slivers of onion; Alaskan king crab, served with a chili-samoriglio sauce, brown butter, and a small smattering of fresh herbs; and a dish of halibut prepared with nicely contasting leek crema sauce.
Salads are likewise as creative as flavorful, with intriguing choices including a dish of red beets with sheep’s milk ricotta, or oyster mushrooms with manchego and a slow cooked egg. The variety of pastas number a hearty burrata ravioli, with a creamy cheese set off by truffle cream and shitake mushrooms, and seasonal options like a spring ramp pappardelle that will coincide with the local season for the wild leeks. No less imaginatively conceived are the other savory courses, with a Serrano ham pizzetta topped with brie and fig preserves, and tender beef short ribs served with creamy fingerling potatoes as representative entries.
Desserts are also a treat, and for a great balance of tart and sweet flavors to cap off savory courses there’s a specialty carried over from uptown, a passion fruit semifreddo, which arrays the fruit and other whipped ingredients into custard-like layers. While the selection of beers and the wine list available to accompany whatever plates one selects are quite ample, the best way to indulge all of what Vai Spuntino has to offer to drink as well as to eat is to opt for a ‘flight’ of several wines, served progressively alongside food orders. The evolving courses of wines lead from sparklers, to whites and finally to reds; the night I went I had a fine threesome consisting respectively of a Le Marche Verdicchio D.O.C., a 2009 Virginie La Grange Viognier, and a 2007 Ontanon Crianza.
Lastly, should guests desire an even more intimate atmosphere in which to enjoy this refined cuisine, there are intriguing options. Cherico has a cooking school in the works, offering private cooking classes, and off-premise catering is also available – thusly allowing one to savor and present to fellow gourmands the Vai Spuntino experience either via the ministrations of Cherico and Torrech themselves, or essaying their vision by ones’ own hands.
Vai Spuntino Bar is located at 105 Thompson Street (near Prince), in Soho. Service is day and night, seven days a week. For reservations, please call 212-226-1146 or visit www.vairestaurant.com.