Straight From The Table: Via 45

By Lori Draz

If you had to choose one word to describe dining at Via 45, it would be “home.” The restaurant has a decidedly homey feeling, from the mismatched plates to the intriguing décor accented with antique fair finds, cookbooks, and curiosities. The mood continues with the comforting autumn colors of the walls, the close tables that co-mingle the energies of the other diners, and the fact that your dinner is ready when mom is done cooking it.

At Via 45, they make it clear, on their website and when you are seated, that the chef prepares each dish to order, so there may be a wait. Via 45 may not be the right choice if you’re starving or rushing to catch a show, but if you have the time, the food is certainly worth the wait.

The other thing that is just like home is that you don’t know what’s on the menu. One of its charms is that the menu changes daily, depending on the ingredients. In fact, the menus are handwritten; further proof of the daily influence of seasonal supplies. There are standard core menu items, sauces, and specials, but the salad one month may include berries and the next month include juicy figs, as ours did.

The restaurant is operated by Chef Claudette Herring and her partner Lauren Phillips Daly. Chef Herring was born in Pisa, Italy, and it is that European touch of letting the markets decide the menu and the elevated peasant-inspired dishes that have made her so popular. She has a big legion of fans who have followed her from Vivere Ristorante in Spring Lake, to A Tavola Ristorante & Pizza in Old Bridge, to the Grand Victorian in Spring Lake, and now to Via 45. Those fans love her solid delivery on flavor and her willful and whimsical style.

We’ll tell you all about our meal, but remember: what we had you won’t likely the find on the menu, although there will just as likely be some variety of the dishes.

We opened our meal with the three appetizers, but the stand-out for us was the salad mentioned earlier. Fresh field greens, hunks of goat cheese, and those juicy figs in a simple and tangy vinaigrette. It was fabulous and tasted like it was just picked.

We wanted to try the Bolognese sauce, so we selected the Bolognese entrée and split it four ways, as a pasta course. It was very meaty, in a light red sauce; quite hearty, yet light tasting. A real nice spin on the classic sauce.

For our entrees, diner #1 chose the shrimp over cannelli beans. It was the loveliest plating of the group and the super jumbo shrimp crowned the very flavorful combination of beans and vegetables underneath. Guest #2 chose the salmon, which came served over greens. Wow. The char on the maple-coated salmon made it look like a lobster tail, and the cook on the salmon was perfect. It was so juicy and fresh-tasting, you’d think they caught the salmon right in the Navesink River. Guest #3 selected the chicken franchese. While they enjoyed the entrée, the dish did not quite meet their expectations. They felt the breast could have been pounded a little more to make it less thick and that the sauce was more traditional Italian, meaning a little lighter and less lemony. All in all, it still had a very home-cooked taste, reaffirming the “that’s the way mom makes it” energy. I chose the rustic pork chop in a Milanese style. The chop, crusted in a tasty panko coating, was tender, perfectly cooked, and very juicy. It came served over a bed of arugula, cherry tomatoes, red onion, and sliced, super-tender red potatoes. It was really satisfying and very tasty. It is a featured item and worth the try. We also noticed that many of the other diners had the nightly special, a rib-eye steak. Boy, did it look good. I hope it circles back on the menu the next time I visit.

Now for dessert. We chose four. There was a traditional tartufo that came with a side of fresh whipped cream, and that cream was so good.  We also had the ice cream with fresh peaches and basil; very refreshing. Then we set our sights on the almond angel food cake. Unlike most angel food cakes, this one was densely delicious while still being light and fluffy. It had a really pronounced almond taste and we loved it. Now the pecan brownie. This tasted like it was someone’s secret recipe that they make on the holidays. It was a fine pairing with the very good coffee. It was so good we had to take one home.

Via 45 is always crowded, so be sure to secure your reservations early. Additionally, it is right in one of Red Bank’s busiest dining corridors, so parking can be an issue. Get there early, relax, and enjoy a journey to Tuscany with your good friends.

The cost:  Moderate

What we liked:  The very cozy setting with all the unique accents, the very fresh and high-quality ingredients, the friendly energy.

What could be better: It’s not their fault, but the bathrooms are located in all the way down in the back, so maybe more signs and a hall light. Also, we would have like a little nibble on the table as we waited.

We give it 4 and three quarter J’s.

Via 45 is located at 45 Broad Street in Red Bank. Call (732) 450-9945 or visit www.via45.com.