BY HESTER MILFORD | Wrapped in a cascading veil of artificial flowers and green vines, Viva Cucina, a new Italian vegan-pescatarian restaurant, held its grand opening in the East Village at the end of last month.
Restaurant owner Tony Iracani wanted to bring his tradition of innovative Italian food to the East Village. His first restaurant, Cafe Viva Gourmet Pizza, is a popular pizzeria on the Upper West Side. Offering whole-wheat, gluten-free and vegan/vegetarian options, at 31 years, it has stood the test of time.
“After serving healthy Italian food and pizza in Manhattan since 1992, we’re happy to return to the East Village with a more upscale dining experience that offers fresh spices, unbromated flours, olive oils, fresh wild-caught fish and some terrific desserts,” Iracani said.
The menu of his new East Village eatery, at 85 Second Ave., at E. Fifth Street, focuses on plant-based, nutrient-dense foods, using dairy substitutes as much as possible. In addition, the freshest, healthiest ingredients available, mostly local and organic, are also used.
Viva Cucina does not use any artificial flavorings, additives, trans fats, high-fructose corn syrup, GMOs, irradiated foods or chemicals of any kind.
Iracani impressed this healthy concept on his two sons, Lennon and Justin, who will work for him at Viva Cucina. Their only condition? “Let’s at least serve fish, Dad!”
At the April 28 grand opening press party, I entered the place and made a beeline to the bar, conveniently located next to the entrance. I downed a glass of complimentary champagne from a friendly bartender and bobbed my head to the loud techno beats of New York-based artist DJ Ila, the night’s soundtrack.
Cameras flashed in the direction of a stubbly grass wall that served as the backdrop for a few orange flowers, a bench and a neon sign proclaiming, “Viva La Vita” (“Live Life”). A perfectly Instagrammable moment, for those so inclined.
The main dining room is on the two-story building’s first floor. It features the busy bar, an array of black marble tables and plush dark-green chairs. The eatery’s second floor is available for private parties and events, and is reachable by a short staircase, illuminated by a neon sign that proclaims, “Dammi un Bacio” (“Give me a kiss”).
My dinner consisted of penne pasta, rigatoni pasta, Caesar salad, house salad, a delicious piece of salmon and risotto. I found both pasta dishes to be quite tasty, the sauce a thick, vegetable-heavy marinara, although I avoided the chunks of meat substitute, a personal preference. While the Caesar salad was typical, the house salad with a balsamic dressing was delicious. The risotto struck me as a little bland and gluey.
Given Viva Cucina’s great location in the East Village, it is not hard to imagine curious neighbors flocking in to give the place a try.