While far from the urban bustle of downtown San Diego, Via Lago exudes cosmopolitan charm. Located at the Village Walk at Eastlake, the restaurant is well worth the short drive from central San Diego, thanks to a modern, elegant atmosphere, spot-on professional service, and a menu of Sicilian favorites that will redefine your notion of Italian cuisine. Overseen by Joe Busalacchi, the kitchen turns out dish after mouthwatering dish using fresh ingredients and inventive combinations, such as Ramigna Alla Contadina, pasta with artichokes, chicken, zucchini, eggplant, tomato, garlic, basil, and ricotta salata, or Pasta Palermitana, rigatoni with spicy Italian sausage, capers, garlic, olives, and hot red peppers in a tangy marinara sauce.Read More ...
Via Lago is a hidden oasis; a calm, inviting space offering a welcome respite from bustling city life. Located in Chula Vista's Village Walk at Eastlake, the restaurant’s signature style of fresh, innovative southern Italian cuisine coupled with gracious, professional service and a warm, welcoming setting has already proven that fine dining experiences need not be confined to the center of the city.
The Busalacchi-owned restaurant, which opened in 2007, is located about six miles east of the 805, in the newly formed and still growing Eastlake area. From the road, the sign announcing Via Lago is small, but pull into the first shopping center after you pass the lake and you’ll find it easily.
Double doors open and a waterfall greets guests, cascading through tiny tubes from the second-story ceiling. The space is airy and open, with exposed ducts above and oversized windows filling the curved outer wall. Warm, muted tones of earthy colors lend a casual, natural vibe. The lighting is low and unobtrusive—during early evening the sunlight filters through windows; at night modern chandeliers and pendant lamps take over to infuse the space with a warm glow. Overall, the space is warm, inviting, and an ideal balance between casual and elegant. The space seems equally accommodating to impromptu dinners and celebratory affairs, a neighborhood restaurant that strives to cater to the needs of the community rather than be elite or showy.
One of the best features of the restaurant is the semi-private wine room, which is sequestered from the main dining room by thick panes of glass. The space is elegant—with marble floors, wine bottles hung from walls, and a wrought iron archway above the glass. The glass barrier serves to isolate private groups, while still allowing them to feel part of the convivial ambiance the restaurant creates. The glass is a surprisingly good sound barrier, making the space an excellent option for casual business meals, birthday celebrations, or even lectures—a flat screen TV allows for presentations or other AV needs.
Via Lago’s Busalacchi heritage means the restaurant is always willing to cater to guests. While the regular menu is large and diverse, the kitchen is happy to create special menus for groups, or even to put together buffet style meals either in the wine room or on the 50-seat outdoor patio. Aiming to step up to the role of community gathering place, the restaurant offers live music on Fridays and Saturdays, featuring a pianist and often a singer performing casual, lounge-friendly music.
Guests have a variety of seating options, including the casual, granite-topped bar and a relaxing, outdoor patio complete with a peaceful fountain, a Spanish-tile awning, and terracotta walls that evoke a small, European town square. Regardless of indoors or out, the meal begins with a basket of fresh garlic bread, featuring small slices of thick bread, brushed with a spice and garlic mixture and toasted to a perfect crispness.
The wine list features about 120 bottles, a dozen of which are available by the glass. The list heavily weighs toward Italian reds, with a varied selection of well-known Tuscan wines as well as a smaller but solid selection of wines from across the country.
Appetizers lean toward lighter fare, most showcasing fresh seafood and vegetables. All of the dishes on the menu have been created by Joe Busalacchi, who commits himself to fresh sources and quality ingredients, and who changes the menu seasonally to reflect this. The Steamed Cozze and Vongole is an example of the clean, fresh cuisine that comes out of the kitchen, featuring plump, steamed Green Lip mussels and clams in a rich white wine butter sauce. The rich aroma of butter, thyme, and white wine rises from the plate, trumped only by the flavor of the rich broth as it spreads across the tongue. The butter's richness marries to the sharp flavor of garlic, tempered by an underlying pepper note—a subtle kick that keeps the broth awakening and lively after each fresh, plump shellfish.
Calimari Fritti is a renowned Busalacchi dish, featuring plump, luscious calamari rings and tentacles, barely breaded in only the lightest layer of crumbs, then gently fried a to a light golden color. The first bite is awakening—the pale rings are tender and succulent, an absolutely luxurious mouthfeel. The plump pieces are accompanied by a house-made, spicy tomato sauce that is as winning as the calamari, bursting with the flavors of fresh, tangy tomatoes and high quality olive oil.
Tuna Tartare may not be traditionally Italian, but it is still given the same loving care as its more authentic neighbors. A circular round of diced avocado, tomato, cucumber, and raw, sushi-grade Ahi tuna arrives atop a drizzle of balsamic reduction, topped with a delicate, house-made russet potato crisp. The presentation is playful yet the flavors are muted and subdued, marinated simply in an olive oil and lemon dressing, and letting the pure flavors of the fish and vegetables shine through.
A Caprese Salad is the perfect interlude between courses, a study in simplicity. Plump tomato slices hold equally plump rounds of buffalo mozzarella, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar and topped with friseed basil. It is quality that makes the dish, that and the freshness of the basil—its sharp, verdant flavor bringing the moist mozzarella to life while taming the tomato's piquant tang.
If there is one thing you can't pass up at Via Lago it is the pasta course—pick any of tempting dishes and you will be equally rewarded. Joe Busalacchi’s pastas are otherworldly, a delicate balance of flavors and textures that are put together to showcase distinct, deliberate ingredients. This is not the place to find overpowering sauces or overexposed Italian-American cuisine; here you’ll find pastas that are unique and intriguing, each bite leaving your tongue alive with elusive, tantalizing flavors that entice you to return your fork for more.
The Osso Buco Ravoili are a decadent treat, featuring small, al dente ricotta ravioli squares tossed with a tender mixture of slow cooked osso buco meat pulled from the bone. The meat pulls apart gracefully, exploding with moist tenderness that is tempered by the ricotta’s gentle flavor. The sauce is restrained, a delightful white wine jus that seems an extension of the slow cooked meat, lending a soft, supple texture and an ethereal flavor. The dish is a delight to experience, one that redefines the notion of Italian cuisine.
The Rotola is a unique, stunning creation, an elegant twist on often inelegant lasagna. Rather than layering pasta sheets, cheese, sauce, and filling in a pan, Joe Busalacchi takes a fresh sheet of pasta and rolls it around the other ingredients, slicing it in to thick, cinnamon-bun-like rounds that stand alone. The result is not only elegant but decadent, fresh pasta sheets intertwined with a goldmine of ingredients: thick slices of artichoke hearts, gently sautéed leeks and spinach, creamy mascarpone cheese. The entire structure is bathed in a rich bath of béchamel sauce, so that individual elements blend into one. Each forkful is complex and comforting, a mélange of flavors that marries the ethereal creaminess of mascarpone and béchamel with the earthy tang of spinach and leeks, keeping the dish both rooted and soaring with each bite.
Mushroom Risotto is a rustic, hearty dish that doesn't lose its elegant edge. A medley of mushrooms—porcini, oyster, cremini, and button—are sautéed in butter then cooked into a creamy risotto that incorporates fresh English peas, rich chicken stock, and sweet Pecorino Romano cheese. Bite after bite is full of wonderful flavors, the absolutely pillowy rice entwined with the savory, earthy mushrooms and crisp peas in a creamy, integrated texture. The variety of mushrooms lends an intricate dimension of flavor so that each bite seems wildly diverse, depending on whether an oyster or porcini slice makes its way onto the fork.
If you're enamored with the pasta, there may not be much room left for entrees; luckily, Via Lago offers a mix of hearty and light dishes. While heartier options include Veal Saltimbocca, Short Ribs, and Florentine steak, the Langostino is a lighter, but decadent option. The presentation is astounding, large, oversized scampi served in their shell, complete with heads, feelers, and claws. The shells have been expertly split down the backside, the lobster-like meat drizzled with drawn butter and broiled to a creamy white. Yet, as exciting as the presentation is, the dish is the essence of simplicity: fresh seafood, plucked from the sea and served in its shell. It’s not easy to perfect such a dish, but each bite is perfectly moist, rich, and satisfying.
Via Lago's dessert tray comes from sister restaurant Cafe Zuccero, and includes such treats as Chocolate Opera Cake, Crème Brulee, and occasionally, Tiramisu. An array of after-dinner coffees and liquors are offered, although sitting back in the warm, comfortable atmosphere is just as satisfying an end. As the waterfall cascades across the room and a jovial crowd converses in muted tones, the restaurant seems to embrace the role it set out to fill: a welcoming neighborhood gathering place where faces are friendly and experiences exceed expectations. And because this is a place to return to again and again, dessert can always wait for next time.
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What a wonderful evening we had at your fabulous restaurant!!! The food is exquisite and I would highly recommend Via Lago Trattoria to everyone!! We celebrated our 40th anniversary and couldn't have been happier with everything your restaurant had to offer. There was also a beautiful singer and she made the evening extra magical. This will be our favorite place to dine!!!!!!
Great service, beyond excellent food!