While top whisks like Ed Brown and Daniel Boulud made noise about braving the Upper West Side, Vai slipped quietly into its modest, handsomely mirrored space on West 77th, quickly winning fans for its savory oval pizzettas—try the three-cheese tomato—and lush pastas. We’re wild about rigatoni with spicy sausage, and the creamy truffled ravioli. With tables both tall and normal, and doors thrown open to the street on a mild night, Vai clearly wants to be a wine bar, offering charcuterie and cheese plates, and more for the hungry. The kitchen creeps on a busy night, but the server brings a giveaway of olive oil, chopped marinated tomatoes, and eggplant-mascarpone spread to pile on toast, smilingly replacing it during our long wait. We love grilled calamari with lemon preserve and capers, clams roasted under a crust of andouille and lemony bread crumbs. Vai wants to play big-time, with a chef’s menu, a flight of five wines for two to share at $75 each, and a small-bites menu with tastes of seven wines for $69. Entrées served naked on the plate seem reasonable enough ($15 to $21, with a $29 rib eye) till the server insists you’ll need sides ($6). That big, nicely moist pork chop does look lonely on the plate. But what’s listed as baby chicken is huge, juicy too, enough for tomorrow’s lunch, and a bowl of crispy artichoke chunks works for the table. The erratic pricing feels aggressive right now, but with all these options, it’s possible to choose an affordable supper.
225 W. 77th St., nr. Broadway 212-362-4500