It's not often that I get excited by Italian restaurants anymore, as they all tend to kind of run together; some pasta, some Marsala, some veal...it's all fine, but it's nothing special. But, every once in a while, you find a place that just does things a cut above, and Viva Fresh Pasta Company, a longtime staple of downtown Northampton, is one of those places.
As the name suggests, Viva (typically just known as Fresh Pasta Company; in fact, despite the giant sign over the door saying "VIVA" I did not actually know it was part of the restaurant's name until recently) focuses on providing fresh, house made pastas, while offering Italian and other European/Mediterranean inspired cuisine. The menu is limited, offering just a handful of appetizers, entrees and "tapas" plates, but they also have a "create your own" section, where you can pick from ten or so pastas (including stuffed), a dozen sauces, and several add ons such as vegetables and proteins. The entrees that include pasta also allow you to pick which type you want.
The restaurant itself is split between a small upstairs with approximately ten tables and a small bar, and a slightly larger downstairs, with probably twice as much room. It is simply decorated, well lit, but not glaringly bright by any means, and it is comfortable for anything from a dinner date to a business lunch or for grabbing a bite to eat with family or friends. The wait staff is friendly and attentive, and even though my date and I were the only people in the downstairs for the majority of our meal, it never seemed like we had been forgotten.
I had the Carbonara, a classic Italian preparation that involves crispy Pancetta (a personal favorite of mine), cream, sauteed onions, Parmesan cheese (not sure if they use real Parmigiano-Reggiano, but it would certainly not shock me if they do), pepper and, most importantly, a whole egg that is mixed into the pasta and sauce at the last second. I had this with linguine, which is not traditional, but I really enjoy a well made linguine and think that it works well with cheesier, clingy sauces like carbonara. It was perfectly prepared, with a creamy sauce that clung to the pasta beautifully, with a strong flavor of the cheese, and a texture that can only come from expertly mixing in the egg so that it does not really cook until it is incorporated, so it is more like a sauce Hollandaise than an actual cooked egg. The pancetta, of which there were small cubes about 1cm in size, was crispy on the exterior and delightfully chewy inside, with a saltiness and savoriness that just warmed my pork loving heart. It did not seem like a huge amount of food when it came out, but it was so incredibly rich that I could not even finish it, and ended up taking a small amount home, which served nicely as a late night snack later that evening. The girl I was having dinner with had the same result, as her Sweet Potato Ravioli was also rich enough that she ended up taking home about five of the dozen or so ravioli it came with.
As I said before, it is hard to excite me with Italian food, but Viva Fresh Pasta Company does it, and while it had been a while since I had been there before this most recent trip, I suspect I will be going back soon. They are vegetarian friendly for you non-carnivorous types, though not remotely vegan friendly (that's okay with me, veganism is just wrong) and they are highly recommended regardless of your gustatory preferences.
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