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    Tuesday, February 27, 2024

    Via Emilia in Mystic is one of the best restaurants in the region

    Via Emilia’s Carciofi (Ann Baldelli)

    Here’s the truth. We had such a good meal the first time we dined at Via Emilia that we went back for a second visit nine days later. And when I say we had a good meal, it was the food first and foremost, but also the ambience, service, and overall dining experience. 

    There were five of us, and we all agreed the food was perfectly prepared and not your ordinary fare. The offerings at Via Emilia are different in a very good way, a delicious melody of flavors and textures, unique ingredients, all fresh, most everything house-made, and artfully styled when presented.

    The staff was attentive, more than spot-on. Plus, there were extras — complimentary sparkling wine for the five of us who went for a birthday celebration, and our waitress and the kitchen staff made the extra effort to deliver an incredible meal for someone in our party with dietary restrictions.

    Located on the main thoroughfare in downtown Mystic, Via Emilia is the sister restaurant to The Mariner, which is directly across the street. The owners of both are Shaun Golan and Jakob Andros, who are on-site and seemingly constantly checking on everything from food preparation to wine selection and pairing, to customer satisfaction. They run great businesses. 

    But you need to hear about the food. Some of the fall menu at Via Emilia is a result of Golan’s three-week trip to Italy in September, where he vowed “to eat and drink everything in sight,” to find inspiration for his Mystic menu.

    On our recent visit, we tried the Stracciatella ($16), a creamy mozzarella (think of the inside of burrata) that was served with pan-roasted mortadella, pistachio pesto, and winter squash diced in miniature bits. Every bite was an amazing taste of complex flavors and distinct textures.

    As we started to dig in, our waiter arrived with a short glass of a complimentary Lambrusco that he said the owner highly recommended be paired with the Stracciatella. And he told us that Golan, the former executive chef at Ballo at Mohegan Sun, had created the appetizer based on a sandwich he had with similar fixings on his recent Italy sojourn. That trip paid big dividends.

    The other starter we shared was the Carciofi ($16), baby roasted artichokes with pistachios, golden raisins, and mint. Again, the flavor palate was perfect. The sweetness of the raisins with the tender halved artichokes and crunch of the pistachios — trust me, it was very, very good.

    The menu is ample but not overwhelming at Via Emilia. You can start with a charcuterie plate with Italian meats and cheeses, marinated vegetables, and olives, for $29 for three guests, or $39 for six. Or choose from appetizers like Vongole ($16), local clams baked with garlic, breadcrumbs, oregano, and lemon, or the popular Polpettine ($13), beef, pork and prosciutto meatballs with tomato sugo and baked ricotta.

    Pastas are all made in-house, including gluten-free. We were told that this is the sole job of an employee named Tina, who makes her pasta magic from a back room overlooking the Mystic River. The pastas are used in dishes like Gnocchi Al Forno, a potato gnocchi with fontina and prosciutto cotto, and Pappardelle, made with a short rib ragu with rosemary or pecorino (both $27).

    On our first visit, we tried the Tagliolini ($27). The dish is comprised of hand-cut pasta ribbons with a ragu Bolognese and parmigiana reggiano. We ate every bite of it. We also sampled the Spaghetti Nero ($29), a squid-ink infused pasta with a fra diavolo sauce loaded with fish, lobster, clams, and mussels. This dish gets a gold star, too.

    Honestly, every item we tried over our visits was way above average. We shared what we ordered, and everybody got a few bites of anything on the table they wanted to try. There were multiple exclamations of, “Oh wow, that’s good,” and even more of, “Oh, delicious.”

    Twice we ordered the Pollo ($27) from the meat and fish side of the menu. This bone-in roasted, organic chicken is tender inside, but the skin is crispy and deliciously seasoned. The chicken is served with polenta and braised string beans, which, by the way, are also on the menu offered as a side. Fagiolini ($12) is just the polenta with the braised green beans with tomato and basil. Try it.

    A special we ordered was the 32-layer Lasagna Verde ($29), made with spinach noodles, bechamel sauce, a meaty Bolognese, and parmesan. It was light and luscious, not dense like lasagna can sometimes be, and the bechamel married with the wafer-thin noodles and meat sauce — well, it was divine. The serving wasn’t very big, but it was very filling.

    Via Emilia opened in March of 2020, literally as COVID forced restaurants to shut down. Like every other eatery, it struggled to get through the pandemic, and now, with restrictions lifted and more and more people venturing out, the word about this gem of a restaurant is getting out.

    There is attention to every detail at Via Emilia. The rustic-type bread they serve with meals arrives with quality olive oil for dipping and fresh whipped ricotta, or some other deliciousness, like marinated white beans. And if tiramisu ($12) is on the menu the day you visit, save room for it. It is light and airy and sweet but not too sweet and just scrumptious. One follower on the restaurant’s Instagram account boasted that tiramisu is their favorite dessert and said they’ve eaten a lot of it, but none better than at Via Emilia.

    A friend who has dined at Via Emilia asked me my opinion, and when I said I think it’s one of the best restaurants in the region, he groaned. “You’re going to write a great review and ruin it for all of us,” he said. “They’ll be so busy we won’t be able to get in now.”

    My advice is to make a reservation. 

    The rustic bread with olive oil and whipped butter at Via Emilia (Ann Baldelli)
    Via Emilia is located in downtown Mystic. (Ann Baldelli)

    Via Emilia

    24 West Main St., Mystic

    Find them on the Web at viaemiliamystic.com or on Facebook and Instagram by searching on their name.

    Atmosphere: The interior is new, trendy almost, with seating on two floors. On the street level, there's the bar, as well as some tables, and then up a flight of stairs, there's seating for about 36 more. Via Emilia is located in the heart of downtown Mystic, and from the upstairs, if you're seated near the windows, there's a great view of the beehive of activity on the street below.

    Alcohol: Yes

    Hours: Open 5 to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday; 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 3 to 8:30 p.m. Sunday.

    Prices: The food is exceptional here, and you pay for what you get. Starters and salads are in the $13 to $16 range, and pastas, meat and fish from about $26 for the buffalo mozzarella filled ravioli to $49 for the 45-day aged prime rib with roasted shallots and broccoli rabe.

    Credit cards: Yes.

    Handicapped accessibility: From the sidewalk, there are two steps inside to the first floor. If you make a reservation, they will ask about mobility and decide whether your party would want to climb the stairs to the upper level.

    Outdoor seating: In season, there are a couple outside tables along the busy sidewalk.

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