All of a sudden there seems to be one new Italian restaurant after another opening, the way Asian themed ones seemed to be the culinary category du jour in the past few years. Most are pizzerias + limited entrée offerings with regional cuisines of Liguria, Naples, and Tuscany well represented . Now we have a very different Italian culinary experience with the family owned and operated Via Emilia 9 in South Beach. Walk in the door and you’ll find yourself transported to an authentic eatery in Emilia Romagna, the land known for its gourmet products ranging from balsamic vinegar and parmigiano reggiano to prosciutto, lasagna, bolognese sauce, and mortadella.
It’s hardly surprising that so many Italians were there the night we went, obviously regulars, welcomed by owners Valentina who waits tables and Wendy her chef husband. Via Emilia 9 opened in September 2014, but it closed late last year for a remodeling. It reopened recently, and the food is even better. Before the “new” Via Emilia 9, Anthony Bourdain visited and said the pasta was much better than good.
The restaurant is named for Via Emilia, the ancient Roman road that ran through the most fertile agricultural plains in Northern Italy. Along its length were founded the townships of Bologna, Modena, Parma and Reggio Emilia. The ambiance is that of a combo salumeria, shop selling cold meats (salumi), cheese and packaged food products along with counter dining, and a restaurant/wine shop.The wine is displayed in wooden crates with prices marked on the blackboard wall. There are also several tables outdoors. It’s a casual and friendly setting and prices are honest, especially considering it’s on the Beach.
Though my travels have taken me to Italy numerous times over the years and Italian cuisine is one of my favorites, I’ve never eaten the kinds of pasta featured here – names like fazzoletti, passatelli and cappellacci. But let’s begin with starters. We had to order the products the region is famous for, so began with a plate of salumi which included two kinds of prosciutto, bresaola, Parma ham, stracchino cheese, robiola, pearls of balsamic vinegar with fig jam and sliced figs. Everything was of high quality, better than the usual ubiquitous meat and cheese boards around town.
Zucchini and eggplant carpaccio were on the menu, dishes seldom seen. In need of some greens, we opted to try the zucchini which was very finely sliced and topped with olive oil and pieces of salt from the black sea (black salt). The Modenese salad with arugula was simple and delicious.
We tried three pastas which included their signature dishes, the tortellini in brodo, passatelli al tartufo and the ravioli dello chef. Tortellini were stuffed with prosciutto, mortadella, parmesan cheese and pork, and served in a light broth. The unusual passatelli were made of flour, bread crumbs, eggs and parmesan. They were rich,cheesy and refined. All were perfectly al dente, light, and delicious. Mr. W proclaimed Via Emilia 9 “the temple of pasta, where pasta worshippers go”. The ravioli was a standout, earmarked for my list of the best dishes of the year. Stuffed with pumpkin, they were a little sweet yet creamy. The restaurant has a “Sfoglina” or pasta maker, Chef Wendy Cacciatori, who hand rolls a variety of pastas right before guests’ eyes.
There’s also a selection of traditional entrees for those not wishing pasta, including veal rolls with cooked ham and cheese, meatballs in Bolognese sauce, filet mignon and traditional chicken dishes.
High marks also went to the chocolate cake. Though heaven knows I love a dense, sugary, icing topped chocolate cake, this one which is made in house, was rich with a deep chocolate taste. I could have been eating a 70% cacao dark chocolate bar, so deep was the flavor. It was served with mascarpone. Other desserts I’d like to try next time are the strawberry crostata (Italian tart), mascarpone with pavesini and Nutella and check out their gelato.
Starters range from $7 to $29.90 for the salumi and cheese plate for two . Pastas range from just under $13 to under $22; entrees from under $16 to $32 , and desserts average $7. A glass of wine (6 ounce pour) starts at $10 and bottles at $32 .
Lunch from Monday to Friday is 50% off, happy hour from 4 to 6:30 p.m. There is street parking, no valet.
Food photography by William Oberheiser