Vilia - Viva Italia

Who says timing isn't everything?  Had I seen the new Woody Allen 'Italian' movie, To Rome With Love Thursday night instead of Saturday night, I would have cancelled my Friday dinner reservation at Vilia, another new neo-Italian restaurant in Paris.  No disrespect to the Woodman, who has made some of the great films of all time (Manhattan, Annie Hall), but To Rome is not only just plain horrible, it is tortuous.  Filled with cliches, Italian stereotypes, lame jokes that die with a loud thud, bad acting, terrible casting (Ellen Page as 'sexy, weird love interest'?, Penelope Cruz as an Italian hooker?  Woody Allen as a retired avant-garde opera director? ouch) my stomach was so upset after watching that sorry excuse for entertainment - are Woody and Judy Davis the most tiresome couple in the history of cinema?) that an Italian dinner would have been the last thing on my agenda.  But as I've said, timing is everything, and so Co. and I were able to benefit from a very satisfying evening at Vilia on aforesaid Friday evening.

Easy to reserve (that's becoming a much underused term in the capital these days, unfortunately - as in the ever elusive Septime and the equally slippery new kid on the block, Abri) and even easier to find - rue de Cotte, we strolled into Vilia around 8 pm and, as the first patrons, had our choice of a mere handful of tables.  Seating capacity at Vilia is, by my own bleary-eyed count, 22.  We grabbed one of the few lone two-seaters - lest getting crammed along one of the 6 or 4 seat tables, against the back wall, but nonetheless in the center of the action - bar against the right wall, tiny kitchen outside of my view down a small corridor in the back.  Recipe for success - take an old shop on a hip, buzzing street in Paris, build it into a restaurant, man the kitchen with a young, charismatic, confident chef, and they will come.  And restaurant bloggers will write their glowing reviews (e.g., Heidi Ellison, me).  An old furrier shop, Vilia is centrally located on a street where I wouldn't mind having a tiny apartment.  This is the third - you can look it up - restaurant within a few square meters of the same street that I have now reviewed at this site.  The superfantastic La Gazzetta is directly across the street, and the disappointing Miel & Paprika is just next door.  And if you aren't satisfied with those options, keep walking, there are plenty more venues in the neighborhood.

Co. & I, as is our habitude, opted for the 3-course menu (36€ per person) in lieu of the cheaper 2-course option (26€).  Not much in the way of choices - 3 entrees, 3 plats, and 3 desserts (or cheese).  But let me tell you about the wine first before we get to the actual grub.  Normally, I don't talk much about the wines at this site because I, gasp, am not an expert.  I adhere to the Don Winslow school of oenology, neatly summarized in his book, Savages, as follows:

The wine world is basically divided into red and white.  (We ain't gonna go far with this -- wine types are almost as hateful as tweekers.)  Every great wine-tasting session should end with arsenic.

And we might add John Niven's observation:

If you have to stop drinking, you're a fucking loser.

Okay, so much for esoteric wine philosophy.  The wine list at Vilia is short and sweet, or moitie-moitie, half French and half Italian.  When in Rome, as they say, so I asked our waitress's advice for a good Italian red and ended up with the very satisfying Cannonau Costera (28€).  Not long after sitting down at our table, the ruggedly handsome, foulard wearing, crazy chef/owner Marco Silvetti whipped past our table to snag a couple bags of DeCecco rigatoni off the mantlepiece, commenting that it is a key ingredient to success - later, we were able to verify that first-hand.  But shortly after our Costera arrived, Marco came by again and we had a brief chat about mutual origins and Italian wines, and here is what he said about the Sardinian-based Costera:

Sardinia, where the ground is hard and the people are silent.

Cryptic enough to enhance the flavor of the wine, which was very much like a French bordeaux, but with something special.  Full-bodied and somewhat sweeter than the French wines I am used to drinking, this bottle held up well throughout the meal, though I fear it might become a bit overwhelming on multiple occasions.  As for the food to wash down, Co. fared better than I did with the entree, thoroughly satisfied with her souffle of oursins (sea urchin), which I sadly did not photograph - but it probably would have been blurry anyway (see below), me less so - having bypassed the mackerel dish for a soup of langoustine, calamar, and clams.  Not to say it wasn't good, but I had hoped for something more special.  This soup struck me as a pretty typical fish soup, no bells or whistles.  Or as Annie Hall might have intoned, 'lah di dah.'

But just a second there.  Did I mention, no I didn't, that shortly into our first dishes, Marco wheeled out into the dining room a barrel-sized block of hollowed out cheese, poured a couple pots of that DeCecco rigatoni inside, and mixed in some broken-up parmesan cheese along with, not sure here, olive oil (?).  When Co. inquired just what exactly he was up to, he responded by bringing a small bowl of the pasta melange to our table, a somewhat belated, but generously welcomed, mise-en-bouche.

Well, let me tell you, this elegantly simple preparation was, in the jargon of today's youth, awesome, dude.  The pasta was al dente - tender but firm - and the cheese al perfecto.  I would have happily scrapped the 3-course menu and devoured a couple bowls of this dish.  But, alas, that was not to be the case.  Nonetheless, I felt pretty good about having chosen the pasta plat - raviolis mozzarella et bufala - three raviolis rectangles bearing small chunks of shrimp.  Co. went with the poulpe dish with charlottes and creme.

Once again, the pasta won out, though both dishes, as we swapped to verify, were rated 'tasty' on the tasty scale, perhaps with Co. a tad underwhelmed by her calamar.  The dessert choices didn't send shivers up my spine, and given Co.'s predilection for the tartelette with yougurt and strawberries, I took the waitress's advice and went with the creme brulee romarin et citronnelle, after she downgraded to no. 3 the third possibility, a panna cotta.  Not much of a creme brullee enthusiast, I did appreciate the sweet concoction that appeared before me.  Co. went euphroric over her hands-on, non-imposing to the naked eye tartellette, now bearing chocolate, as a late-night replacement for the yogurt - how does one run out of yogurt?

So, in sum, a satisfying, laid-back night.  Italian, yet not totally, which I am sure will keep Vilia as an interesting option, especially when you can't get reservations at La Gazzetta or Caffe dei Chioppi.

Arrivederci, baby.

26, rue de Cotte
75012 Paris
tel. 09 80 44 20 15
no website
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