an audible gasp could be heard all around manhattan when the adored soho italian destination fiamma was shuttered in january, arguably the first major restaurant casualty of the current economic crisis. one had to wonder: if such a venerated and conspicuously popular restaurant could succumb, was any restaurant in town safe?
obviously, fiamma's demise also diminished the number of fine italian restaurants in the area. but thankfully, last october, restaurateurs giuseppe tuosto and barry mullineaux opened via dei mille on a graceful lower stretch of west broadway, and while it cannot replace fiamma-what could?-the place has a certain relaxed elegance and made a fine new platform for some marvelous cookery, from a kitchen overseen by tuosto and mullineaux.
named for the most elegant street in naples, via dei mille is set in a former storefront, a long rectangular space with high ceilings hung with a pair of beautiful crystal chandeliers. past the full bar, large antiqued mirrors are on facing walls; from where i was sitting, in one of the mirrors i could see into the kitchen, where at several points i noticed a line cook
making soft ribbons of fresh fettucine in a whirring pasta machine. throughout the 75-seat dining room are the large handsome paintings of a korean artist named song hanseok; the owners plan to rotate the works of local artists and offer them for sale.
service is extremely watchful. the moment we were seated, we were presented with nice chewy rolls and a bowl with light olive oil poured over a pool of balsamic. a number of wines are available by the glass; a particularly fine young sauvignon blanc, vigna traverso, 2007, was pineappley and citric and went well with pretty much everything we ordered.
the menu flaunts bucolic regional italian dishes, especially from the north of italy. we began with five firm veal meatballs, golf-ball sized and unusually flavorful thanks to a lemon glaze. a cluster of baby lime-green broccoli was parked on a fried risotto tartlet.
a stacked grilled octopus salad with arugula and baby romaine leaves featured plenty of sliced lightly charred octopus tentacles, and the plate was finished with an ample scattering of miniature chickpeas.
a succulent, meaty rabbit ragu was rustic as any pasta sauce around. it marries perfectly with fresh pappardelle, and there was plenty of shredded rabbit flesh wound through, with a welcome little heap of sweet caramelized onions-a brilliant touch.
four thick veal leg scallops are watchfully sautéed and plated under a supple brown pan gravy, then given a generous and highly fragrant saturation of black truffle shavings. next to the scallops was a mound of spectacularly smooth mashed potatoes, also redolent of black truffle.
a special entrée that evening was pork tenderloin roulade stuffed with spinach and speck, a delicious kind of smoked bacon that comes from the leg rather than the belly. the tenderloin was nice and juicy, and those luscious mashed potatoes were on hand.
grappa is steadily gaining in popularity in town; i see it on more wine lists everywhere i go. we tried a little nonina silver, which had that wonderful grappa sharpness, an incisive opening and a velvet finish with a slow burn.
two nutella-stuffed crêpes were simply luxurious, on a large plate with two sccops of stinging fresh mint ice cream. and bittersweet chocolate mousse was quite thick and creamy, in a white ramekin with sliced strawberries on top.
via dei mille has already been discovered and embraced by the neighborhood, but i could tell that people from other neighborhoods-and several from other countries-were there on a return basis. any good restaurateur will tell you that returning diners are the secret to a restaurant's success, so this lovely place is sure to be among us for years to come. -- via dei mille 357 west broadway between grand and broome streets 212-431-0080 entrées: $22 to $28