I gave Vito’s a rave review in 2007, and it has only improved with the addition of Chef Romuald Jung, late of the Palace Restaurant at the Cincinnatian Hotel. Chef Romy’s talent and love of food and family outgrew the corporate confines of hotel dining.
He’s found a welcome home with Vito — owner Victor Ciepiel and his wife Mary — in Fort Thomas, and his influence has made already excellent food grand. The menu is filled with original dishes yet retains a trattoria’s essential honesty. The sauces and the flavors of each dish are rich, complex and satisfying. This is a good partnership.
What makes an evening at Vito’s truly unique, of course, is the music. Vito and his talented waitstaff, accompanied by Piano Pete, sing their way through classic melodies, show tunes and even opera arias. Don’t think that it’s corny — that was my apprehension before my first visit. These are skilled songsters who are also superb servers, and their work makes for a magical evening.
Peter, a tenor baritone, brought us the evening’s special cocktail, a pomegranate martini, to start our appetites singing. We opened with an order of the new Gorgonzola garlic bread ($9), which was a little mild for true garlic junkies, but perfect for polite appetites.
The best starter, though, was the pumpkin soup ($7) — a velvety bowl of autumn, graced with petite ricotta raviolini. Absolutely excellent. There’s also a new low-carb cannelloni ($10) with silky celery root replacing the pasta, atop light fresh tomato sauce.
Although Amish chickens themselves do not drink wine, the Amish Chicken Masala ($21) proved that they bask in it quite well. The sauce was superb, and the chicken was flavorful — not always the case with today’s birds.
Lamb “stinco” ($26) seems like an unkind name for savory braised lamb shank. The best part of this dish was the absolutely gorgeous polenta that it came with — a creamy island in a pool of delicious porcini mushroom and lamb reduction.
The beef short rib stew ($22), much like Chef Romy’s excellent oxtails that were one of his signature dishes at the Palace, are comfort food raised to an art form. I had to struggle with the decision between the ribs and the pan-seared Diver scallops ($26), wrapped in applewood bacon and served over butternut squash puree, but I certainly was very happy with my choice. The tender beef, with soft fingerling potatoes and sweet baby onions, was rich and delicious.
Another beauty of Vito’s is that the menu pleases everyone. I had a traditionalist with me who went for the night’s special, spaghetti and meatballs ($16), and loved it. The sauce was savory — a hearty Northern Italian ragu with handmade meatballs of pork and veal. The pasta items at Vito’s are easy to overlook when the “secondo” are so special, but on another visit I want to try the ricotta gnocchi Bolognese ($20), with all of the colors of the Italian flag, or the pappardelle with wild boar ragu ($21) just to find out how boar tastes.
Four of us barely squeaked through the three featured desserts, but we’d have been remiss not to try them! They are worth every belt-loosening bite — the creme brulee, the tiramisu and the bread pudding ($7 each) — each one delightful. By the time dessert arrives at Vito’s, you’re already so captivated by the beautiful music, the wonderful hospitality, the excellent wine and the amazing food. It’s just a fantastic night out.
Or morning out: Chef Romy’s Sunday Brunch is catching on at Vito’s, with featured items from his days at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. Vito tells me that he’s never tasted fresh Hollandaise as good as Romy serves on his eggs Benedict ($12), and Mary loves the Bellagio omelet ($17) with asparagus tips, boursin cheese and lobster. I’d sing the praises of either.
Go: 654 Highland Ave., Fort Thomas
Hours: 5-10 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday; 5-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday
Entrée Prices: $16-$28
Payment: All major credit cards
Red Meat Alternatives: Seafood, fettucine alfredo, truffle risotto and vegetable sides
Accessibility: Fully accessible