Translating Nine Mile

Mar 30, 2005 at 12:00 am

Whoa! Traffic jam on Nine Mile Road. White limo vs. black limo. White limo escorted by police car, officer rolls down window and tells black limo to move along. “You’ve been sitting there for an hour,” the officer says. Black limo pulls away from the curb and purrs quietly through the residential streets of Ferndale. White limo glides onto Nine Mile.

A hip new restaurant is causing the commotion. Open just a month, Via Nove has taken over the building formerly occupied by the Temple, a techno-chic restaurant that seemed to have some momentum, but stumbled.

Via Nove reunites the management team from the well-respected New Center restaurant Il Centro, now closed. They’ve created an exciting space in which to showcase modern Italian cuisine. Upstairs the walls are white, the floors hardwood, a lime green grand piano is in one corner. With live music on Friday and Saturday nights, it promises a lively bar scene. Downstairs the walls are black, the floor is carpeted, and there’s serious dining going on. The upstairs crowd is mostly youthful and moneyed; the downstairs crowd is somewhat older and moneyed.

In the kitchen, Joseph Beato, a chef with 30 years experience, is joined by his nephew Joey Beato, a recent graduate of Oakland Community College’s culinary arts program. Vito Beato and David Day are owners. The younger chef Beato spent the last year studying his art in Rome. “That’s what gives us the upper notch,” papa Vito says.

Our food ranged from lackluster to fantastic. Taking into account the newness of the establishment, there’s hope that Via Nove will work out the kinks and make an important contribution to the expanding mix of cuisines on Nine Mile.

Involtini di melanzane is a fine appetizer. Overlapping slices of eggplant are rolled around a stuffing of spinach, ricotta and mozzarella, then breaded and fried. Served with a fresh sauce of tiny sweet pear tomatoes, it’s absolutely delicious. I only wish eggplant could be this tasty without frying.

Three soups are on the menu: the obligatory minestrone, cod with garbanzo bean puree, and chicken with pastini. The chicken soup was the kind of thing you might crave on a bitterly cold day when you have the flu, but in a high-end restaurant it came off as boring.

There are eight pasta choices, some traditional (potato gnocchi with Bolognese sauce), some innovative (hand-shaped oblong pasta with braised rapine and fresh garlic). The tortellini was straightforward: pasta stuffed with spinach and ricotta (a reappearing motif in several dishes), and served with a simple brown butter seasoned with sage, with a shaving of caciocavallo cheese on top. It was good, but, for $18, we thought we should have more than nine tortellini. Since pasta has a high profit margin, it’s hard to imagine any reason for skimping.

Dinner comes with crusty focaccia, brushed with butter and dotted with herbs; it’s served with a plate of olive oil and tomato sauce for dipping, a welcome alternative to butter or oil alone. A simple house salad also comes with entrées. Mine was decidedly less than fresh. I lined the decomposing bits of lettuce around the rim of the plate, and pointed them out to our server just to see what would happen. At first he doubted my assessment (and it was hard to see in a room lit for mood), but finally said, “Sorry.” That was it.

Veal, shrimp, salmon, sole, chicken and filet mignon make up most of the entrées, and they’re prepared in ways that go beyond the ordinary. Veal comes as chips, scaloppini with artichokes and lemon augmented by wild mushrooms. Saltimbocca, another traditional dish with prosciutto, is sautéed with dried cherries, walnuts and fresh apple compote.

I love chestnuts, so lombo di maiale con castagne caught my eye: pork loin stuffed with apples and chestnuts, served with cabbage strudel. It was delicious; the apples were actually inside the meat, giving it the sweet flavor of fall. But if chestnuts were in there, I could neither see nor taste them. The strudel was a very nice touch, served slender like an egg roll.

For dessert, I again gave in to the chestnuts, ordering charlotte au marroni con salsa di caramello. I didn’t get any caramel, but the chestnut mousse inside a thin mold of génoise was luscious. A little scoop of gelato that came with it was fabulous, made with gianduja — a hazelnut-flavored chocolate.

A thought: What if only ethnic restaurants could open on Nine Mile and all had to be named “Nine Mile” in their respective languages?

Open daily except Monday. Full bar, nice selection of Italian and California wines.

Elissa Karg dines for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].