VIA UNO: Southern Italy with a Modern Twist
By Kerri Stenson
It might not jump out at you as you are driving by on Highway 1, but when you stop at VIA UNO Cucina Italiana & Bar you are treating yourself to a step into Southern Italy with all of its warm hospitality, spice, freshness and charm.
Both from the Calabrian region, co-owners Massimo Sarubbi—from the agriculturally rich Verbicaro—and Francesco D’Agostino—from the coastal fishing town of Fuscaldo—opened VIA UNO in celebration of their origins where “everything is organic, healthy, seasonal, fresh grown and made from scratch.”
Formerly co-owner of Sapore Italiano in Burlingame, opened in 2001, Massimo is not new to the culinary world. He recalls when he was 6 years old “staying with my grandmother and eating all kinds of vegetables from the garden, growing grapes for the family’s wine … and just eating fresh food all of the time.”
Upon moving to the United States in 1995, Massimo’s love for food inspired him to open an Italian restaurant in the Bay Area, owned by Italians. He worked hard towards his goal and, with his wife, Penny Kostaras, began recruiting friends from his home town region, who were happy to find lodging and opportunity in the States. Today, many of these friends have opened restaurants of their own, including Terún in Palo Alto.
Massimo’s newest recruit is the chef at VIA UNO, Giuseppe Sarubbi—from the same town as Massimo but not related!—who is bringing more Southern Italian authenticity to the food.
The pizza is prepared from scratch in a wood-burning oven, which is “almost an art. You have to learn the oven and the right time to bake,” says Massimo, who has earned his coveted pizza making certification from VPN Americas, the American Delegation of the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana, which aims to cultivate the culinary art of making Neapolitan pizza.
And let me tell you, it is an art. The pizza with its Fior Di Latte mozzarella (made from fresh cow’s milk) melts in your mouth with flavor. The homemade sun-dried tomato spread is exquisite and the Gnocchi (made with gorgonzola) is so fresh, creamy and divine, I had to tear myself away to leave room for the Mulingiani Chini (stuffed eggplant)—hands down the best I have had. (Please note: there are plenty of fresh seafood and meat dishes to please even the most discerning customer.)
To end our meal, Chef Giuseppe appeared with a modern twist on a traditional Calabrian custom. Traditionally, “Papa or Mama brings a big basket of favas to the table and the family shells the favas at the table as they talk, eat and drink wine,” says Penny. Once shelled, the fava beans are eaten raw with guanciale (cured pork) and pecorino cheese together off of a cutting board to end a meal.
Our version of this fava tradition, Bruschetta di Fava, was served on a cutting board handmade by Massimo. The fava beans were shucked and puréed with love, and topped with pine nuts, pecorino cheese and fresh sprigs of dill. Pure delight.
I’m pretty sure I love the Calabrian traditions of food and eating … and will most definitely be going back for more.