Vialé: Hit or Miss?
An Italian restaurant with nice ambience but mediocre dishes
502 Massachusetts Ave
Cambridge, MA 02139
Monday-Thursday 5 p.m.-9 p.m.
Friday 5 p.m.-10 p.m.
Saturday 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 5 p.m.-10 p.m.
Sunday 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 5 p.m.-9 p.m.
Our decision to eat at Vialé was actually impromptu. Originally, we planned to eat at Brookline Lunch, but we realized that we wouldn’t have time to finish our meal because of the long line. Therefore, we decided to check out Vialé, as it was conveniently situated on Mass Ave in Central Square, and we were curious what it had to offer for first-timers. The sign is inconspicuous, hiding near the greenhouse-like windows that give a clear view into the beautiful interior.
Vialé’s website frames the restaurant as an upscale American take on Italian classics, offering both dinner on the weekdays and brunch on the weekends. From classics like the margherita pie pizza to the saffron lumache to the calamari, the menu is enticing for many. Reviewers concurred, with Vialé voted Best Of Boston by Boston Magazine in 2018.
When we entered and sat down at a booth, we immediately liked the restaurant’s ambience. The wall art had urban street qualities to it, which added color that balanced out the neighboring monochrome white wall. Near the window, there were various kinds of greenery that added vibrancy. Although the lighting was a bit dim in some places, the orange hue from the Edison style string lights and the small white string lights along the front of the store made the place feel upscale and intimate.
Besides the lighting and layout, the jazz music in the background was a great addition because its liveliness and energy enhanced the atmosphere. Another special feature was the restaurant’s seating variety, from bar seating to the traditional two-person tables. Overall, the environment successfully melded a homey feeling with an upscale, lively one.
Although the menu had a brunch special, it was rather short and had few options. Thus, we weren’t sure what to eat. I asked the host for her recommendations for brunch, so I ended up ordering the Shrimp N Grits dish, while Alor decided on the margherita pie pizza.
The Shrimp N Grits had a buttery scent with a hint of seafood, which smelled quite pleasant. The dish was presented well, with the green garnishes of scallion and chives dotting the food. I was pleased to see a good amount of shrimp for the price I paid ($18). My first bite of the dish started off well, as the shrimp had a hearty taste with a dash of sea brine and the right level of chewiness.
The orange sauce had a nice creamy texture with a trace of sweetness, giving the dish a smooth finish. The sunny side up eggs did not disappoint. The ends of the sunny side had the ideal crispiness, contrasting the rich, gooey flavor of the yolk.
When I tried the grits and the chorizo, however, I was disappointed by the saltiness. Personally, I felt that leaving out the chorizo would have made the dish better, as it was dry and made me feel thirsty. I enjoyed the textural variation of the grits, but wished that they could’ve been lighter to complement the heavier parts of the dish. Overall, the Shrimp N Grits was interesting for its variety of textures and taste, though for $18 I expected a bit more consistency in the saltiness across the entire dish.
Alor’s margherita pie pizza looked decent — a visually appealing, caramelized crust with melted mozzarella and some shredded basil. It had an aroma of caramelized cheese, atop a large serving of sauce. Despite this presentation, the taste and texture left much to be desired. For one, the chewiness of the crust was more suggestive of pita bread than a traditional pizza, which (if intentional) was not advertised on the menu. In addition, the sauce to cheese ratio was somewhat lopsided — despite almost immediately digging into the pizza, he felt that the crust was somewhat soggy from sauce.
This problem was manageable for the 4 corner slices, but magnified for the 2 edge slices. Finally, the pizza felt unseasoned despite the shredded basil on top. The flaky salt and chili flakes at our table helped Alor mitigate some of the textural and flavor issues, but the $15 price point left him unsure about the dish’s consistency and overall quality.
Our experience here left us with mixed impressions. While the food may have struggled to meet expectations, the environment was inviting and service was stellar. We even got boxes of Vialé brand matches, which were a cool little gift to remember the restaurant by. Overall, Vialé’s a place that you should come to for the vibes, ambience, and energy, with tempered expectations for the food.