Although we’ve always been obsessed with discovering and sharing great places to dine out in CT, back in 2006 (when we lived in Black Rock) we were just developing our professional eating and dining abilities. We’d check out the hottest spots in the area, and (of course) we’d also try out the newest restaurants. One such restaurant was Viale, which we saw being built, start to finish. Ever the intrepid explorers, we had a meal during the first few weeks of their opening. While we didn’t remember all the details of our first meal so many years ago, we do remember the meal to be decent, but no amazing.
Now, fast forward to a few weeks back when we were invited to come in and try Viale again. We were very interested to see if things were the same or if they’d improved, especially now that we have so many great places to compare it to.
We walked in and felt like we’d taken a trip back in time to an old-school neighborhood Italian joint where you might expect to see some mobsters running business in a back room (it’s ok, we can say that, we’re Italian). Now, that can be a good thing in that it feels traditional, authentic, and cozy, but it can also be a bad thing to some in that it might feel old, stodgy, and boring. It truly depends on the type of scene you’re looking for. If you want modern decor, a lively feeling, or even romantic, this probably isn’t your spot. If you want a calm, neighborhood vibe, then it’s cool.
In terms of drinks, they have a decent wine list that takes you through red and whites from California, Italy, and a sampling from other countries. Prices are $21-$98, with most in that sweet spot we love to see of $20-$30.
The food menu itself is pretty simple, with items ranging from appetizers, to salads, to pasta, to chicken or veal dishes, seafood, and grilled goodies. Now, while the menu has most of the basics you like to see at an Italian restaurant, we couldn’t help but feel like it was very similar to what you might see at your local (better) pizza shop, but with less variety and a higher price. And, our server, while incredibly nice, also didn’t really know the menu, what was in things, or even how to pronounce items like burrata which did take away from that authentic experience we thought we’d get.
Starting things off, we went with the burrata special. While the burrata isn’t made in house (it’s rarely made in house, btw), it came in fresh, full of flavor, slightly salty, and creamy on the inside. It was served with a bright presto, fresh tomatoes, and basil. This was a good alternative to the same old mozzarella and tomato dish that dots nearly every Italian menu. We hope to someday see burrata as a regular star on every Italian menu because it really is da bomb!
Next up was the Grilled Calamari Mediterranean which included olives, roasted peppers, garlic, and olive oil. The sauce had good flavor with the olives adding a nice saltiness to the dish, the peppers a soft sweetness, and the garlic a warm undertone. But, the calamari itself was chewy, having been overcooked . . . it may have even been frozen at one point though we don’t know for sure. In addition, we couldn’t tell that it had been grilled because there were no grill marks at all, so that nice smokey flavor was missing.
For the main dish, Kristien ordered the stuffed rigatoni special served with a prosciutto, tomato, and onion sauce. The rigatoni, stufffed with ricotta, had a decent amount of creamy filling, but the pasta was too thick and hard, like it wasn’t properly cooked. The sauce, on the other hand, was tasty with just the right amount of sweetness, saltiness, and smokiness from the prosciutto.
Dan had the Fra Diavolo and decided to have it with the Fra Diavolo sauce (you can also pick marinara or white wine). It came with scallops, shrimp, mussels, all in a chunky and zesty sauce. While it was zesty, it wasn’t spicy with only a very slight tingle. They do have pepper flakes on the table, so you can add any heat level that you’d like, but you expect more of a kick with a Fra Diavolo sauce. The scallops (they actually gave about 7 or 8 of them, not just 2 like most places do) were perfectly cooked, which made Dan so damn happy. The shrimp was overcooked though, so that was a bit disappointing. All of this was served on top of a nice portion of al dente linguine. At first it didn’t seem that there was enough sauce, but when you got down to the bottom, you saw there was plenty.
For dessert, we weren’t sure what to get: a cheesecake, a blueberry creme roll, the tartuffo, or the tiramisu. It seemed that whatever we picked would be great because they were all made in house. Well, it’s hard for Dan to resist a good tartuffo, and this one was very good, just as you’d expect: chocolate and vanilla ice cream, with a cherry inside, covered in a chocolate shell. Kristien ordered the Tiramisu which was okay to her, but was a bit too spongy and sweet. It’s tough to find that right balance of cake and liquor, as well as sugar in a good tiramisu.
Viale was busy when we went so it’s clear it’s a neighborhood favorite, and they get good ratings on Zagat and several websites like Yelp, Google, TripAdvisor, etc. We think people like going here because they serve up classic Italian-American dishes with a heavy emphasis on pastas. They also seem to have regulars that they take care of like family as we watched servers and staff interacting with patrons.
In terms of food, we felt like things were decent, but not innovative, creative, or super well-executed . . . especially when you compare it to other places in Fairfield County. But, if you want your (affordable) wine, your pasta, your steak and all those classic dishes in a more upscale environment than a pizza shop, this is probably a good place to check out.
Address: 3171 Fairfield Avenue
Black Rock, CT