Rome native owner and chef Antonio Morichini wants his Italian restaurant in Via Vai to resemble a piece of “Italy in Astoria.”
The restaurant and wine bar located at 31-09 23rd Ave. has become a neighborhood favorite since it first opened in June 2014, even attracting guests from outside the city. After living abroad in Italy for several years, Morichini and his wife Cynthia Licul began their venture in Astoria, the neighborhood where she spent her early years.
The duo said they are building a reputation for serving freshly made, traditional and contemporary authentic Italian dishes in the area. She said their credibility often comes from customer recommendations.
“The food reflects the culture,” Cynthia said. “Being a chef, he understands the culture – the culture really does come out in the cuisine.”
Morichini learned and perfected the craft growing up in Italy. His passion for Italian cuisine began from his time helping his mother and grandmother with traditional meal preparations. Once, he remembers being asked to stir the polenta, a type of Italian cornmeal, for 40 minutes.
Morichini said those family affairs gradually evolved into an interest. Later, his cooking style was professionally influenced as a chef working in numerous Michelin-starred restaurants in Rome and Chiavari. He then relocated to New York City and worked as an executive chef in several Italian restaurants in Brooklyn, Westchester and Manhattan.
Diners at Via Vai know that it’s the one place where they can find consistency in homemade authentic Italian meals, Morichini said. From the wine to the olive oil, most of the products with the exception of some ingredients are also imported from Italy.
“To produce pasta every day is no joke,” he said.
From open to close, Morichini starts the day early to prepare the pasta dishes. He also makes the pizza dough for his thin-crust, Roman-style pizza two days in advance and still has time to offer seven different types of dessert on the menu.
However, he said customers are often attracted to the range of 10 to 12 handmade signature pasta dishes from the Branzino to the Bucatini all’Amatriciana.
The duo hopes to continue sharing their familiar culture through their cuisine and hospitality. Cynthia said they are now introducing a traditional three-course family lunch meal on Sundays known as “Pranzo di Domenica in famiglia.”
The lunch meal offered on Sundays at Via Vai is more rustic than the rest of the menu such as the traditional lasagna and the pasta carbonara.
“In Italy, the tradition is on Sundays you would get together with the family, the extended family and they would all be around the table – so the idea is to have that kind of environment translated into the local area,” she said.
The quaint Italian restaurant is a distance away from the populous strip of fine dining establishments in the area. Morichini said its remote location is perhaps what makes the experience more exceptional.
“It’s so compressed, so [the customers] go down [to Ditmars Boulevard], then they decide what kind of restaurant” they want to choose, Morichini said when referring to the plethora of food establishments located there. “Over here, they come because they want to come.”