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Viva Via Vino

Michael Del Pietro bucks Italian tradition by offering small plates.

Photograph by Kevin A. Roberts

Via Vino Enoteca
10427 Clayton
Frontenac
314-569-0405
viaviavino.com
Dinner Mon–Sat

Average Main Course:
Small plates, $8; entrées, $21
Reservations: Here, yes. Next door at Sugo’s, no.
Chef: Michael Del Pietro
Dress: If Sugo’s is casual, then aim for business casual.

There’s a family connection and a rear door, too, but Via Vino Enoteca stands in sharp contrast to its adjacent cousin, Sugo’s Spaghetteria (a hallway connects the two). Whereas Sugo’s reminiscent of a large Umbrian farmhouse, with a rustic air and tumblers for wineglasses, the newest creation of the Del Pietro family—decked in stark black, white, and silver—recalls the Rome of La Dolce Vita. And its menu is...well, let’s say it’s more worldly than Italian-centric. The crowd at the long bar, however, seems to include similar comfortably well-off patrons, albeit slightly younger.

Plenty of small plates, both hot and cold, form the majority of the menu. They range from the simple, like a plate of salumi and cheese or excellent oysters on the half shell with a sherry vinegar–based mignonette sauce to the more substantial, such as grilled tenderloin. A Caesar salad has a proper dressing with good anchovy notes, the plate topped with a shower of hard-boiled egg. House-made potato chips, a smaller serving than those found at the local sports bar, redeems itself with a drizzle of gorgonzola dip and another of truffle oil, rich and decadent.

“Fried Jerusalem artichoke,” the menu reads. A rarely seen root vegetable with the flavor of artichoke heart, this is known in France as a topinambour and is sold in the U.S. as a sunchoke. We ordered them forthwith, but what arrived were real artichoke hearts, cut in quarters, battered, and fried. Nice, albeit a little soggy, but not the same thing at all. Still, the lemon aioli was tasty.

Grilling shrimp can be tricky; they’re easy to overcook, but these arrived just right in a small puddle of lemon beurre blanc. A cloud of toothpick-sized onion shreds, deep-fried to crispness, constellated on the plate, a fine accompaniment and one we found, to our pleasure, on other dishes. A couple of carefully grilled scallops rested on potato purée surrounded by a veal demi-glace. The shellfish were good, but the potatoes stood out, probably containing some dairy’s entire daily output of cream. Slices of the grilled tenderloin arrived rare as ordered, sauced with a blue cheese and red-wine reduction. More gorgonzola topped a serving of gnocchi, which were light enough to balance the heavier, creamy sauce.

Only four main courses are offered here: roast chicken, steak, Chilean sea bass, and a pork chop. We tried the small double-cut chop, which arrived over garlic mashed potatoes and some very tart roasted apples; the apples and garlic potatoes turned out to be a swell combination, and the pork was tender and juicy. For dessert, the carrot cake was so moist, it seemed fresh from the oven.

The wine list is proper for a namesake restaurant, with a good variety and price range, as well as plenty of by-the-glass choices. A bottle of ’09 Perrin & Fils Côtes du Rhône ($32)—a blend of Grenache and Syrah—was satisfactory. Real excellence, however, showed in a $9 glass of Three Saints Syrah from Santa Ynez County in California, a product of Jim Dierberg’s superior wine operation.

The Bottom Line: Tradition be damned—smaller portions seem most appropriate here.
 

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