Va de Vi is the place to dine in Walnut Creek and it was my first experience eating there. Va de Vi recently renewed its status in the Top 100 of The Bay Area, not an easy thing to do. I was excited to try the food and see what all the buzz was about.
For a Thursday night at 6:30 pm, the restaurant was already crowded. Full bar, full dining room, and a few open tables outside. The temperature was cooler outside, probably the reason for the absence of guests. That wouldn't last long. Since outside was my only option, I sat at a two top under one of the many heating coils. My server, Vito was about the most energetic server I've had in months at any restaurant in The Bay. He spoke as though he had a degree in literature and formal training in theater arts, powerful vocabulary and elocution.
A note on the size of the plates you'll see, they are small for a reason, that's the theme of the restaurant; small plates and a variety of cuisine. I sampled three different wines that evening; 2008 Lang & Reed, Cabernet Franc, North Coast, CA, a 2008 Odisea, “The Temp”, Tempranillo, Clements Hills, CA, and a 2008 Donkey and Goat, “Four Thirteen”, Syrah/Grenache/Mourvedre Counoise, El Dorado, California. The Odisea Tempranillo was outstanding, paired well with food, and easy to drink on its own.
I started with the roasted beets and arugula salad with goat cheese in a spanish sherry dressing. The chunky cut beets were tender and seasoned well with fine black pepper and salt. Small dollops of cheese were about right for the portion size and the arugula wasn't dressed to early so as to be soggy. Nice start to the evening.
Item two, the house made agnolotti filled with ricotta, parmesan and lemon served with a brown butter emulsion. I would say the pasta bordered in thickness and construction to a potsticker rather than Italian agnolotti, so not traditional. When pasta is this big, it takes away from the ratio of filling to pasta. I'm not being any more critical than any Italian chef was with me with regard to this very specifically named pasta. Perhaps a mezzelune would be a closer approximation, but the size and thickness are still an issue. OK, I'll stop being so fussy and particular.
Looking away from the pasta shape, size and texture, it was delicious. The sauce was wonderfully creamy and nutty. Considering the patron volume at the restaurant and a busy pass, the pasta was brought to the table quickly out of the window.
My third choice, lechon or crispy pork belly, was served over rice and topped with pickled onions, kimchi and sweet chili soy glaze. My server, Vito, suggested I eat the individual bites as I would sushi. Great suggestion and suddenly a more playful dish. I took the first item as he suggested and consumed it whole with all the sauce and garnish. I think I'm supposed to taste pork, right? The onion / kimchi mixture is overwhelming in pungency and the sauce is overly generous in application. My remaining three pieces were sans garnish and rice, focusing on a wonderfully cooked pork belly. When pork belly is cooked this well, why pour sauce everywhere? Why garnish with such a heavy hand? Kudos for cooking the pork belly, have faith that your customers will appreciate the dish without all the extras, or at the least, a more subtle application of flavors.
After spying the short ribs and taking Vito's recommendation, I decided to finish my protein fest with the braised boneless short ribs served over saffron risotto and covered with demi glaze and gremolata. The preparation of the meat was flawless, but again, I'll come back to the application of sauces and sides. The yellow substance you see is oil and the gremolata on top mingles with the oil to combine into a garlic infused oil. Why so much oil? Why have any oil applied at all? When high quality short ribs are cooked properly, which these are, they are slightly fatty and gelatinous with wonderful mouth feel. I like the use of the demi glace, that's fine. The other item is the rice below. It's not risotto, it's more like rice semi-prepared like risotto with saffron. Risotto is creamy and incorporated into something that is not sitting below this short rib. The rice was fine, but took away from the short ribs with the flavor of saffron. I thought paella, not risotto and I didn't finish the rice. Let me reiterate, I loved the short-rib, just not everything around it worked together, similar to the pork belly.
I finished up with a single scoop of vanilla bean gelato and single scoop of coconut sorbeto. These are not made in-house, but they were satisfying nonetheless.
You may wonder after this experience what my verdict was? The verdict is, I'm coming back to eat here the following night to sample the various fish preparations and the gnocchi. I was impressed with the general technique of the various meat preparations. The lack of simplicity in the final presentation of the dish is what bothers me. Allowing the beauty of an item, in this case protein, to not stand out and be covered with sauces, hides what the chef is doing. It's like covering a completed masterwork of Italian sculpture with board shorts and ball cap.
Service was very good that evening and I would happily request Vito as my server again. I look forward to tomorrow night.