Vivo Revival: A sleek modern restaurant emerges in Sewickley with an eclectic menu
Owners Sam and Lori DiBattista opened Vivo Kitchen in Sewickley in August. Its interior has a style much different than their Bellevue restaurant.
Grilled quail with Peruvian blue mashed potatoes, basque chili edamame and a house sausage.
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After operating Vivo in Bellevue for more than a decade, Sam and Lori DiBattista closed it earlier this year, and at the end of August opened a reimagined restaurant, Vivo Kitchen, in Sewickley.
The name is almost the same, some furniture has been repurposed, Mr. DiBattista still runs the kitchen, but otherwise it's a whole new show.
Where Vivo was shabby chic, Vivo Kitchen is sleek and modern. The marble tables from Bellevue have been fused into a long, elegant bar. There's a nod to the incandescent lighting that was a signature of the old establishment -- two lines hang down the center of the long restaurant, with a few dozen more clustered into a free-form chandelier in the front window, like cascading bubbles. A clever art installation fashioned from thin pieces of old record albums adds a splash of color, and a cork floor dampens noise.
2 stars = Very good
2 stars = Very good
3 stars = Excellent
2 1/2 stars = Very good+
432 Beaver St.
- Hours: Tuesday-Thursday, 5 to 9 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 5-10 p.m.; Sunday-Monday, closed.
- Basics: An elegant neighborhood restaurant with an eclectic, frequently changing menu, striving to suit both casual and formal meals.
- Recommended dishes: Grilled figs with prosciutto, crispy polenta with ratatouille, pickled white asparagus with green salad, rabbit cacciatore, lamb chops with Dijon mustard sauce, red snapper with wild rice-couscous pilaf, whipped mascarpone with nutella, pumpkin spice creme brulee.
- Prices: Starters, $7-$10; mains, $20-$34.
- Drink: Full bar including an evolving drink list; wine list offers detailed tasting notes, with a minor focus on white wines from California and red wines from California and Italy. One sparkling, six white, six reds and one port available by the glass, $8-$15; 13 white and sparkling wines, eight for $40 or less; 25 red wines, 13 for $50 or less.
- Summary: : Wheelchair accessible; credit cards accepted; reservations recommended for peak weekend times; corkage, $15.
- Noise level: Low to medium loud.
In Bellevue, the partly verbal menu was creative Italian, portions were substantial and each entree was augmented by pasta and salad courses. In Sewickley, there's a printed menu of starters and mains, and the inspirations are more eclectic. There's also a full bar and wine list (the original Vivo was BYOB).
The best dishes balance simplicity with layers of flavor and texture. A duo of grilled figs wrapped in prosciutto were served on a spoonful of creamy ricotta ($9). Fried potatoes, lamb bacon, serrano ham and foie gras scraps were topped with a fried egg and served with two small toasts -- breakfast for dinner, chef-style ($9).
A lovely salad of spicy arugula, sliced oranges, black olives and avocado was a well-matched combination of strong flavors, but didn't live up to its promise, because the slices of avocado were still quite hard ($7).
A square of polenta was crisped at the edges, meltingly creamy within and topped with a spicy ratatouille-style sauce of zucchini, summer squash and cherry tomatoes, one last taste of summer ($9). White asparagus was pickled in a spicy Vietnamese vinegar and served over sliced Tuscan kale and flat-leaf parsley ($9). A smoky roasted tomato and garlic dressing was a robust foil to the tart vinegar and slightly bitter greens.
Entrees were served with "chef's choice of vegetables and starch," an unwieldy phrase but a better-executed version of the concept, as several options were mixed and matched to suit different dishes. One evening, aged lamb chops with a zesty Dijon mustard sauce were served with mashed butternut squash and tender baby bok choy ($34), while crispy poussin chicken came with the mashed squash and broccolini ($16, half-chicken). A slightly dull flat iron steak was paired with the baby bok choy and petite roasted potatoes ($24).
Some of these entrees drifted into dullness, or simply made me question whether they were worth the price. The lamb chops were delicious, but at $34 for three small chops, they deserved to be dressed up with more than mustard sauce and standard vegetable side dishes. A bison Wellington sounded like a clever update on a classic dish, but the deconstructed version that arrived was far less impressive ($30). The bison fillet was accompanied by a few sauteed mushroom caps, a square of puff pastry, roasted potatoes and broccolini. The menu mentioned foie gras (traditional beef wellington often includes a layer of pate de foie gras spread between the fillet and the puff pastry shell), but it was either very difficult to locate or absent from the plate.
Better dishes delivered more vibrant flavors , like a red snapper fillet garnished with a soft sweet relish of caramelized shallots. It was a good match for a wild rice and couscous pilaf flavored with hints of chile and coconut, although the roasted carrots that completed the plate would have benefited from a longer cooking time to draw out their sweetness ($24).
Rabbit cacciatore was beautifully rustic and traditional ($26). Boiled purple potatoes and long sauteed green beans were served in the same bowl, nested into the savory, slightly spicy tomato sauce, thick with chunks of carrot and onion. Don't be intimidated by rabbit. Some say it tastes like chicken, but to my mind, well-cooked rabbit has a much smoother texture and a sweeter, more delicate flavor.
A daily special, that rabbit deserves a place on the regular menu. But nothing seems to stay on the printed menu long. Mr. DiBattista said he doesn't want to be one of those restaurants where people come for the same dishes all the time. To his pleasant surprise, whatever's new on the menu tends to sell out.
Change can be very good, but the peripatetic menu might explain why small errors crept into some dishes -- overcooked octopus, underripe avocado -- and why others seemed incomplete. Servers also seemed to have a hard time keeping up with the menu as they weren't always able to answer basic questions about dishes. Servers also seemed to be responsible for making cocktails, and they needed more training about the contents of the drink list and how to properly measure and prepare a cocktail. For now stick with wine or the winter sangria, red wine flavored with apples and cinnamon, which was very tasty ($8, glass; $18, half-carafe).
Desserts offered a nostalgic glimpse of the previous restaurant, as Lori DiBattista's ice creams, in flavors including pistachio, cookies 'n' cream and heath bar crunch, were still a staple of the sweet menu ($7). Whipped mascarpone layered with nutella, hazelnut liquor and berries, a creamy play on trifle, was a hit with the whole table, although that dish should probably retire when flavorful berries are hard to come by ($7). A pumpkin spice creme brulee was just right for the season, reminiscent of a particularly creamy pumpkin pie and just sweet enough to bring any meal to a pleasurable close ($6).