Dining » Vol. 4

Via Alto 27

A Culinary Leap Forward for Clinton
By Bernie Whitmore

Via Alto 27
27 High Street, Clinton
(978) 598-7002

Clinton, Massachusetts is familiar turf; clipped into the pedals of my mountain bike I’ve passed through its streets a thousand times. But I’m a novice to the town’s dining scene, venturing no further than Old Timer Restaurant — a fun place with Irish atmosphere and traditional New England cuisine. It was the only place on my Clinton radar — until now.

The Italian language is so beautiful it makes anything sounds exotic. High Street translates to a name both easy to pronounce and indicative of the cuisine. So as I joined a few friends for our first visit to Via Alto 27, I was hoping for good Italian cuisine. Soon after opening the menu, I found it might also be the most authentic Italian restaurant I’ve been to outside of Italia.

Via Alto is a leap forward for Clinton. They’ve recycled what I reckon to be an old retail space and converted it into a sleek room with an urban feel. The high ceilings and large open space have acoustical properties creating an energized social setting without being flat-out noisy.

Our party of four was seated at a table overlooking the street, in what appeared to be a window display space converted into an intimate dining area. During our short wait we’d ordered glasses of California Zinfandel. The lush peppery-red berry flavor was an instant hit, so we ordered a bottle when our server arrived with menus.

As with many Italian-American menus, Via Alto’s is divided into Antipasti, Insalate, Primi & Secondi Piatti, and Dolci. But in America, most pasta courses are full-fledged entrées – platefuls enough to feed a family in Italian restaurants. As I wrote above, dining at Via Alto is a more authentic Italian experience – the primi piatti are small portions of pasta meant to be enjoyed (or shared) with one’s main dish. This might help explain the low prices.

Our first appetizer was an order of rice balls. Two to an order, each was a bit larger than a golf ball, with a center of melted cheese – perfect for sharing. We continued with fried calamari, tender rings and tentacles of squid tossed with slices of hot peppers. No heavy oily flavor from this kitchen! Both were served with fresh-flavored marinara.

For insalate, we passed around a bowl of traditional Caesar salad. Though I was last in line, when it got to me there was still more than a generous portion with anchovies and crunchy croutons. Then our server brought a basket of piping-hot-from-the-oven buns, yeasty and soft with baked-in cloves of tasty garlic. Worth waiting for…so delicious they didn’t need butter!

My main course was chicken piccata, chunks of boneless chicken sautéed in drippings and white wine, with quartered artichoke hearts and a scattering of capers. A squeeze of lemon made these flavors come alive. I matched it with fusilli pasta dressed with puttanesca sauce. Although puttanesca may be tomato-based, its flavor derives from chopped olives, garlic and capers. It clung to the twists of home-made pasta.
I scarcely looked up from my meal as my friends were devouring plates of chicken parmesan, eggplant parmesan and linguini Alfredo (the kitchen had run out of fettuccine noodles). Everyone was enjoying their moment of culinary rapture.

After our meals, we drank the last of the wine and listened as our waiter recited the dessert offerings. We’d already observed the big goblets of tiramisu in their cooler near the front door. Other choices just didn’t have the drama, so we shared a couple. The rich cocoa espresso flavor was a fitting end to a splendid meal.

Clinton’s a decent drive from Worcester, so I know we’ll be calling ahead for reservations and carpooling back to Via Alto 27 soon. There’s much more menu to explore!

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