Gnocchi al pomodoro e basilico
With its location near Ralph's in the Wood Ranch shopping center, you probably wouldn't think to try Viva La Pasta for dinner unless you had heard good things about it. Despite the cheesy name, I decided to try it because it had lots of good reviews on Yelp! They also send out lots of coupons in the mail, which I guess finally wore me down. Besides, there are not a ton of dinner options in Simi Valley that aren't chains. I figure I might as well attempt to eat at them all. There are more independent restaurants than you would think, but it takes a bit of effort to not just fall back on Chili's or TGIFridays.
Viva La Pasta has much in common with Two Guys from Italy, a German/Italian (mostly Italian) restaurant I'm quite fond of in Moorpark. Soup or salad comes with all the entrees (though it's a less generous portion of soup). You can create your own pasta from among 29 sauces and 11 types of pasta (one of which is gnocchi, my favorite). They also have chicken, beef, veal, and seafood entrees; pizza; and panini.
The minestrone soup was good--not really noteworthy in any way, but good. The side salad contained a mix of good lettuce and crappy iceberg lettuce, some quirky chickpeas, a wedge of refrigerated (read: mealy) tomato, and a lone pitted kalamata olive. Despite the mediocre veggies, the vinaigrette dressing I chose made the salad quite good. I usually just order vinaigrette because it is the least bad salad dressing option at restaurants (ranch belongs on buffalo wings, not lettuce), but this vinaigrette was zingy, with plenty of vinegar and garlic. It had the thin consistency of a homemade vinaigrette and none of that artificial, gloppy thickness that some bottled vinaigrettes have. The server, though clearly having a bad day or not much of a people person, was nice enough to tell me that a salad came with my meal when I tried to order an appetizer salad.
Ah, the service. That was really the only off-putting part of the meal. When we asked for a few more minutes to read the menu, our waiter took way too long to return. Our water was only refilled once, some time in the first ten minutes of our visit. Wines by the glass are not listed on the wine menu, so you have to ask about them, which means you don't get information about prices or options up front. (They don't appear to serve any alcohol besides wine, but maybe you have to inquire about that, too.) Our server seemed distressed that we tried to order dishes by name instead of by number. One member of our party, who wanted to have cheesecake for her meal, was served her "entree" before we even got our soups and salads. However, the rest of the food did arrive quickly.
The risotto misto--arborio rice prepared with chicken breast and Italian sausage in a chicken broth, white wine, and saffron sauce, was just okay. For some reason I was expecting it to be creamier, but re-reading the menu description, I realize that it doesn't say anything about cheese being an ingredient. The sausage was particularly good, and the dish was better with some red pepper flakes, although the spice tended to overwhelm the dish's mild flavor. At least it was filling, but I prefer my homemade gorgonzola risotto and I would try a different dish next time. There are only two risottos on the menu, so it doesn't seem to be one of the restaurant's specialties. This one was about $15.
The gnocchi al pomodoro e basilico (lead photo, potato pasta in a tomato and basil sauce) was a create-your-own pasta option. The gnocchi were neither too fluffy nor too dense, and their irregular shapes indicated that they were most likely homemade. The sauce was perfect--a little sweet, a little salty. If only they sold sauce like this in jars at the grocery store. If you're a light eater, this dish will give you enough to take half home, but if you're a big eater, you might think the dinner portion looks like a lunch portion. I thought the portions were the right size and commensurate with the price. This dish was only $10.
The cheesecake also tasted homemade--a little on the salty side and not overly dense or creamy like Cheesecake Factory cheesecake, but a little lighter, like the cheesecake you get at Persian restaurants. The portion is reasonable enough that you can eat the whole thing yourself without going up a size.
I love cannoli. This rendition reminded me of the one at Two Guys, but the filling was a tad lighter. When you eat the hard outer shell and the thick, creamy filling together, it tastes similar to a glazed donut.
Overall, everyone enjoyed their food and thought the prices and portions were reasonable. We all agreed that we'd go back, too. The dining room atmosphere is classier than Two Guys and this is one of a few tablecloth restaurants in Simi (nevermind the white paper covering the tablecloth), but it's still casual enough that I would call it a long-term relationship date restaurant. I would pick someplace fancier and with more enthusiastic service if you're trying to impress.
Viva La Pasta has lots of enticing promotions that make the restaurant a great bargain. A dinner for two that includes soup or salad, entree, coffee, dessert, and a bottle of wine is $34.95--for both people, not per person (look for a coupon in the mail, or print it from their website). Sunday brunch is $16.95. There are daily specials that come with soup or salad, an entree, and dessert. And you can get gift certificates on Restaurant.com for $25 off a $50 meal. Restaurant.com often has 80% off sales, so you can get a $25 gift certificate for $2 instead of the usual $10.
Viva La Pasta isn't perfect, but on the whole, I recommend it.