VAI’s Italian Inspired Kitchen + Bar
Artisanal dishes from family recipes in Naperville
Crispy Pork Belly with Apple + Dried Cranberry Chutney
Gather . . .You Don’t Have to be Perfect to be Amazing . . . I Think I’ll Just be Happy Today . . . Thankful for the Little Things . . . Signs with these and other inspiring phrases dot the walls and décor at VAI’s in Naperville. The words also aptly describe the fare and vibe at this Italian-inspired kitchen and bar that opened about a year-and-a-half ago on a busy stretch of Route 59.
A lot of happy patrons gather at this establishment, even on midweek evenings. The food is amazing, with several dishes pretty darn close to perfect. The touch of the owners, chefs and servers is evident in the little things, too, whether it’s the Instagramable flair with which dishes are presented, the immediate way a server swiftly brings you another napkin when she notices you dropped yours on the floor, or the family recipe desserts that have already become menu favorites.
The restaurant is owned by the same operating partners who run the popular Fire + Wine in Glen Ellyn. Their experience shows at VAI’s, where even if there’s a wait, hosts will make an effort to minimize any impatience with frequent, polite updates. Beyond the charming signs, the ambiance across the spacious interior is inviting in other ways. For instance, there’s a large bar in the front corner and a curtained-off party room in another.
VAI’s serves up an array of small plates and pizzas for large or smaller groups to pass and share in convivial Italian style. Executive chef Scott Raiman’s commitment to fresh ingredients and his deft ability to combine them in creative ways is evident in many menu selections, including starters and bar bites like crispy prosciutto deviled eggs elevated with truffle oil, pecorino and chives; and pillowy pumpkin gnocchi, with pumpkin pie-spiced butternut squash; and pasta sautéed in brown butter and tossed with chili flake, spinach, tomato and apples.
This is not a proverbial everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to using different ingredients to define a dish — the marriage of flavors at VAI’s is thoughtful and pays off in entrées like the sublime Chicken Milan, consisting of a lightly pan-fried chicken cutlet topped with fresh mozzarella, balsamic glaze, frisée and heirloom tomatoes, and served next to a nest of spaghetti in Parmesan cream. Other bright spots in the menu include Italian staples like a hearty pasta bolognese and spicy chicken tortellini; plant-forward dishes including roasted heirloom beets and organic kale and quinoa; and large plates such as a Kona-rubbed rib-eye served with Calabrian chili butter; or jumbo scallops and risotto, with doses of color and flavor, courtesy of additions like charred corn, smoked bacon and butternut squash.
The Neapolitan pizza is a specialty of the house, available in red or white bases with a range of toppings. If you like it hot, try the family recipe Johnny Vai’s hot pepper mix that can be ordered to accompany other foods as well.
Another family recipe that proves why it’s been handed down over the years is Sandy’s White Wine cake, made from a yellow cake laced with cinnamon and brown sugar and topped with a drizzle of sweet white wine icing and a squiggle of raspberry purée. Finish it off with a scoop of vanilla gelato.
916 S. Route 59, Naperville. 630 453-5200. www.vaisnaperville.com
Chicken Milan; rib-eye with scallops and risotto; Neapolitan pizza
Entrées: $16 – $31
Pastas: $17 average
Pizzas: $13 – $18
Tues – Thur, 4 – 10 p.m. ; Fri, 4 – 11 a.m. ; Sat, 11:30 a.m. – 11 p.m. ; Sun 11:30 a.m.– 9 p.m.
Private party room, call-ahead priority seating, later bar hoursEdit Module