By SUSAN ERICSON
On the consistently changing face of Broad Street in Red Bank, Via45 stands out as a bastion of culinary authenticity, staying true to its Tuscan-style roots.
Owners Claudette Herring and Lauren Phillips are the unified driving force in the kitchen of this BYO restaurant, dishing up rustic but refined menu options.
After assuring the hostess at the front desk that we had a reservation – you probably won’t get in without one – we were whisked to a comfortably situated table and then coddled and cared for. “Is this okay?” our server inquired, before asking if we had any food allergies or issues such as the need for gluten-free, vegetarian or vegan options.
Then she rattled off some menu suggestions while also informing us that it’s a “good idea” to order a salad or starter, as everything is cooked to order and we’d be waiting half an hour for our entrees to arrive anyway.
Our order of stracciatella soup was served in a deep china bowl with pretty flowers around the rim. Egg ribbons and fresh spinach leaves floated in the light chicken broth.
Entree portions here are not for the faint of heart – nor the dieter. A plump chicken quarter, pan-roasted and served on the bone, swimming in a fresh mushroom-filled pool of Madeira-infused sauce was accompanied by verdant baby spinach. The spinach brightened the plate and lightened the flavorful wine sauce. It was so much better than the precooked, flattened chicken cutlets most other restaurants serve in a chicken marsala dish.
It would be a pity if you didn’t leave room for dessert. PieHole tells you to keep this in mind before ordering, because chef Phillips has been gifted with an inherent flair for flavor pairings. A crème brûlée served in a deeper-than-usual ramekin had a thick, perfectly glassine caramel top to it that took a few hefty cracks of the spoon to break through. The lemon-flavored custard underneath was surprise number two. A caramelized lemon slice in the custard added a bright bit of tartness that changed what might have been an ordinary dish of pudding to a flavor extravaganza. With two spoons in, we ate every bit of it deciding that next time we’ll order two desserts.
Before heading out the door, we stopped in the kitchen to say hello, where Herring wanted to know how everything was. A mention of the eggplant being slightly bitter brought forth a discussion of how difficult it can be to find fresh local ingredients at the end of the winter. She is constantly in-tune with the seasons and the weather, and how that affects what she’ll be cooking in the kitchen.
With the advent of warmer weather and fresh produce, the ever-changing menu at Via45 is always enticing and often surprising. It all depends on how the gardens grow.