above photo by Young Buns Doughnuts Welcoming signs hang on the pale sage building at…
Are you missing out on your annual trip to Italy for fresh pasta, seasonal ingredients, great wines and lingering enjoyment? A visit to Via Emilia could hold you over until travelling normalizes. Owners Shaun Golan and Jakub Andros, who wowed with extensive renovations to The Mariner seafood restaurant, also transformed the space across the street into a cozy Italian trattoria. Attention to detail begins outside where two exterior tables and tall planters with healthy evergreens adorn the brown and cream decorated store front. Festive white lights hang from the overhang.
Aromas from pots of fresh basil, oregano, rosemary and spearmint around the room gently greet guests who sense fresh flavors are at play. Natural wood tabletops, plush brown chairs and banquettes, and a white marble bar balance the clay colored walls and vivid Italian posters. Shaun or Jakub greet and seat every guest and this already feels like a favorite neighborhood spot where I’d feel at home in faded blue jeans.
Modern stainless steel handrail and cable railing in the wide staircase contrast against the warm brown wallpaper and invite a look upstairs. Natural wood flooring, wood tables and comfortable chairs reside in a spacious room with huge windows overlooking downtown Mystic. The back of the room boasts a temperature-controlled wine room with 100+ distinctive choices from Italy and around the world plus a large window for admiring them from an adjacent VIP table for four. Staff assist in pairing wines with food to enhance your dining experience.
Charlotte brings a glass of water and full carafe of water with lemon for my ongoing enjoyment. Her service throughout my visit is attentive and unobtrusive and I’m able to remove my face mask for the duration of the meal. Charlotte brings rectangles of freshly baked focaccia boasting flavors of caccio e pepe (Romano and black pepper), and tomato onion in a rectangular copper dish. Crispy polenta bites arrive with golden olive oil and a ramekin of lightly peppered and herbed ricotta. I’m swooning at each bite and haven’t even ordered yet.
A simple Caprese salad with perfectly ripe yellow and red tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, tangy baby basil and golden olive oil is refreshing and rich. Anchovies arrive halved perfectly lengthwise marinated in lemon, pepperoncino, and fennel with vibrant flavor and marigold petal garnish. Three beef, pork, and prosciutto meatballs with baked ricotta rest upon tomato sugo in an appetizer both subtle and delicious but not heavy. You could generously share but may not want to. The locally-sourced ricotta and mozzarella are outstanding in both dishes.
Sean checks to see how I’m enjoying the food while contemplating entrée options and the subject turns to lobster. I mention that I’m a tough lobster critic because I have my own lobster pots and Shaun cheerfully takes my statement as a personal challenge. He delivers Lobster and Scallop Tortelli – pockets of freshly-prepared pasta with shellfish sugo, corn and roasted tomatoes with fennel fronds. The subtle sweet flavors marry into a deeply satisfying dish that is the best of summer on a plate. Really well done, Shaun. My palate applauds you.
Portions are reasonable so diners savor each bite then enjoy an additional course. Chef Scott produces Seared Sea Scallops with eggplant and summer squash caponata, roasted almonds and apricot vinaigrette. The vibrant sweet and sour vegetables are delectable with the creamy, perfectly-cooked scallops and I can’t imagine any dish in Italy tasting better than this or the Tortelli. I don’t have room on this visit but desserts include classic Tiramisu, hand-filled cannoli, and a dried cherry olive oil cake, each perfect with coffee.
Shaun is a self-described “Jewish kid from Long Island” who grew up immersed in Italian culture and food. He started cooking as a kid and never wanted to do anything else. Frequent trips to Italy with his wife inspire respect for tradition and fresh ingredients creating lifelong fans of him and those for whom he cooks. By focusing clearly on food and service, Shaun and his business partner Jakub Andros provide exactly what customers want. I waited until now to mention the 32 layer Lasagne Verde but a local business owner shared how she enjoys it every week and is a huge fan of the meatballs. Most of the restaurant’s business comes from locals who appreciate perfectly prepared food in a cozy atmosphere. This is the place for a relaxing culinary trip to Italy; no boarding pass needed.
24 W. Main St. Sun.-Mon., Wed.-Thurs. 5-9pm. Fri.-Sat. 5-10pm with available take-out. 860-415-4840. ViaEmiliaMystic.com
photos by Elizabeth Saede
Come to Mystic where food and fun play well together and shopping is a pleasure.