Anisa asked me to decide between Thai-in-general or Vietnamese noodle soup. “Oh, like phở?” I asked, before quickly adding, “Wait, does that mean they also have bánh mì?” As I’ve had woefully little bánh mì since learning about it via Achewood, I chose to be optimistic with regard to the chances that this would be a Vietnamese soup and sandwich shop. We set off and after a lovely stroll through downtown Northampton, found out that the shop, simply called “Noodles,” was, as might be expected from its name, not interested in creating sandwiches.
Having set my hopes so highly on having my first banh mi since leaving San Antonio, I was done with Vietnamese for that night. Instead, we popped into the Italian noodle shop just across the alley, a delightful two-story affair called the “Viva Fresh Pasta Co.”
After being seated and introduced to our fantastic, not-the-least-bit shy server Beth, Anisa and I found ourselves simply overwhelmed by the options presented. I believe there were 7 kinds of “Made that Day” pasta available, along with three special ravioli preparations and several starters and entrees. This was all in additional to the fixed menu, of which I wanted one of everything. However, as they were a fresh pasta company, I decided that I would limit myself to the front-of-the-menu “Daily Specials” options.
I initially gravitated toward the Sweet Potato Ravioli, prepared with maple-walnut sauté, before I decided that I also wanted a cup of the day’s soup: Butternut Squash Bisque. Since I’ve been wanting to limit the amount of orange that I have with any given meal, I chose to forgo the ravioli in favor of Egg Linguine alla Carbonara. The decision-making process was agonizing, as I found myself almost equally tempted by every delectable option. Anisa, meanwhile, had immediately and gleefully decided on the Artichoke Heart Ravioli, pairing it with the Romesco sauce. It was something about artichokes being the perfect food, I think.
[A brief aside: before stopping into Viva, I had never heard of Romesco, a Catalan almond or hazelnut sauce. Shortly thereafter, I became aware of the existence of fractal cauliflower, also known as Romanesco broccoli. I was quite confused for some time, though I've since become quite curious about attempting the not-quite-recursive dish of Romanesco in Romesco sauce.]
We placed our orders, and of course we wanted some of the garlic bread, with mozzarella, please. Then a wonderful mistake occurred: we were given garlic bread with Gorgonzola. Sweet, creamy Gorgonzola; it made me forget that I was even eating garlic bread aside from its toasty buttery-ness and which led me to later ponder a more extended application of Gorgonzola and pancetta. My bisque arrived at just the right moment, and had a very subtle sweetness and was not as creamy as I had expected. I carry a flawed mental concept of bisque, perhaps. It also reminded me that I wanted to try preparing a roasted carrot and red pepper soup of my own…
But nevermind that, it was time for the entrees! My carbonara more than made up for any creaminess that was bisque was (not actually) lacking, and the sauce had that lovely smoothness that I have yet to duplicate in my own kitchen. The linguine was the star, as one might hope from a restaurant priding itself on fresh pasta, perfectly al dente, and with a more restrained richness than I was expecting. The pancetta was generous, and its strong, meaty, saltiness played perfectly with the Gorgonzola when it came time to (rather improperly) wipe my plate clean.
Anisa, as I recall, was equally pleased, if not more so. I do believe that she loves her artichokes. I found the ravioli slightly undercooked to my taste, but that may just be my own unsophisticated American palate.
Altogether, the entire meal was absolute joy, and I heartily recommend Viva whenever you find yourself wandering Northampton, MA struck by the hunger that only a big plate of delectable, home-made Italian noodles can sate.