Love at First Bite

Phillip Brents

Thu February 6, 2014 12:47pm

The cuisine and atmosphere are, to put it in a nutshell, simply superb at Via Lago Trattoria. The upscale Italian restaurant, one of six in the Busalacchi chain, has clearly established itself as Eastlake’s neighborhood jewel. In fact, it’s the neighborhood motif that excites managing partner Jan Montell the most about the restaurant.
“I really enjoy being in a neighborhood restaurant because you get to know the customers who come in,” she said. “You get to know what they like and you can prepare things for them before they arrive. It’s fun to get to know your clients. In 2014 we want to reach out more to the area. I never believe that everyone knows about you.”
The restaurant, which owns distinction as one of the original tenants at The Village Walk at Eastlake shopping center, opened in October 2007. It was love at first bite for area diners. “We had a two-hour wait when we first opened,” Montell said.
Whether it’s a corporate business party, private wine dinner, wedding reception, bar mitzvah or just a quiet romantic dinner for two, what isn’t there to like — or rather, love — about Via Lago?
The owners have brought the fine-crafted taste of downtown San Diego to Eastlake, and haven’t lowered the standards of the product in the process. Joe Busalacchi remains the executive chef of all the Busalacchi-owned restaurants and oversees the menu. Montell said the restaurant offers “the best possible product for the price.” The menu spotlights salads, seafood and pasta in particular. But diners will also find pizza and a delicious array of appetizers for their choosing as well.
“Food is religion in Italy,” Montell said. “It’s an art form. There is so much care taken just in the preparation.”
Excellence is taken down to the smallest detail at Via Lago, and many may consider that a lost art itself. The restaurant has an authentic Italian feel to it, and not just from the menu. The open architecture sets the mood of casual elegance. “When we saw the space at the center, we felt it was reflective of who we are, it was a perfect fit for us,” Montell said.
The menu has already passed the fiercest taste test — that of native Italians. “They’re pretty happy with us,” Montell said with a smile.
Via Lago features a lunch, happy hour and dinner menu. The culinary array includes spectacular appetizers, authentic pastas and pizzas as well as fish, steaks and chops. Recently, the restaurant began serving a prime rib special on Saturday and Sunday that has proved a hit with customers. “We already have a lot of regulars,” Montell said. “It’s really doing well.”
On Wine Down Wednesday, the restaurant offers 50 percent off each bottle of wine. “It’s a way for people to be introduced to the various wines,” Montell said.
The restaurant opens for lunch at noon, followed by a happy hour from 3 to 6:30 p.m. Dinner starts at 5 p.m.
Popular lunch items include the fettuccini alfredo ($10.95) and, for seafood lovers, the pescatore ($15.95) — fettuccini or risotto mixed with clams, calamari, shrimp in a tomato broth. Chicken or shrimp can be added to the fettuccini alfredo. Gluten free pasta is also available.
On the dinner menu, highly recommended is the polenta sausage appetizer ($9.95). Those who don’t necessarily like pasta should find the polenta to their liking. It’s made from cornmeal and is topped by the restaurant’s own house specialty sausage ragu.
A perfect way to start a date is by ordering the heavenly mushroom soufflé ($10.95) on the dinner appetizer menu. It is served with one-half marina and one-half garlic cream sauces. The perfect way to end a date is with one of the restaurant’s delectable desserts — all from the Busalacchi-owned bakery.
Speaking of dating, February is the month for lovers.
The fire pit patio is a popular place to enjoy specialty cocktails or appetizers before either dining indoors or catching a movie nearby. It’s a great spot to drop in and start an evening off on the right foot, especially when the need to impress arises.
Live music is offered four nights each week, ranging from classic Sinatra to DJs. The music starts at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday and 8:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
The restaurant has already earned fame for its Easter and Mother’s Day brunches, and also celebrates Halloween, Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve with a festive party atmosphere.
February’s special occasion is, of course, Valentine’s Day. Because of the way the calendar falls in 2014, it’s Valentine’s weekend this year at the restaurant. Have someone special in mind? Pencil in either Feb. 14 or 15 at Via Lago. Specialty drinks and desserts will be offered after 5 p.m. with live music starting at 8 p.m. on Feb. 14. More live music and dancing will be highlighted on Feb. 15. Reservations are suggested.
Come expand your comfort level at Via Lago Trattoria in Eastlake.