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It's been almost two years since I've had decent Italian food. I've just recently come north from the culinary hinterlands of New Mexico, where a good red sauce is as hard to find as a cloudy day, a competent driver or a virgin bride. There were nights when I would have walked a hundred miles for a plate of honest-to-Jesus linguine or killed for a big, fat meatball sandwich. Cannoli? Forget it. I was once served a cannoli that was filled with Reddi-wip and Hershey's chocolate chips, and the restaurant (which for now shall remain nameless) had the nerve to call this a "handmade New York favorite" on the menu. I showed them another New York favorite -- and I only had to use one finger to do it.
5946 S. Holly St.
Englewood, CO 80111
Region: Southeast Denver Suburbs
Mozzarella, basil and tomato salad: $5.95
Lobster ravioli: $13.25
Veal scallopine al limone: $14.25
Linguine fruitti di mare: $12.95
Now, I'm originally from New York, born of solid mutt-Irish stock but raised on a steady, working-class diet of spaghetti with meat sauce, homemade gnocchi and a half-dozen varieties of parmigiana. My very first job, at age fifteen, was in the kitchen of a little mom-and-pop ristorantewhere I was responsible for boxing and turning the pizza dough and answering the phone for a clientele that spoke English just about as well as I spoke Italian -- which is to say, badly. From the moment I was old enough to chew until the day I left home, I ate Italian food at least twice a week, and never, ever, did it occur to me that there was anything but good Italian food out there. I mean, how could anybody do it wrong? Didn't everybody grow up eating like this?
Much to my surprise, I would come to find out that, no, everyone did not grow up eating like this. When I moved out on my own and started to travel, I discovered that some people grew up eating chicken-fried steak, or kimchi, or enchiladas. Some folks didn't have the slightest idea of what a pasta arrabbiata was, or why you must brown your meat in the same pot you're using to make your San Marzano sauce, or how a really good Alfredo should taste.
And much more recently, I discovered that all those poor souls who don't know a puttanescafrom a primaverahad moved to Albuquerque, with the express purpose of denying me that most basic and necessary sustenance: good Italian food. It was a conspiracy; I was sure of it. That's why now, I live here.
More to the point, that's why last week I was dining at Venice, chef Alessandro Carollo's three-month-old restaurant in Greenwood Village. Walking in a half-hour early for a six o'clock reservation, I was so badly in need of an Italian fix that I was ready to chew the bumper off a Ferrari. But the place was packed, so I waited.
It was worth it.
Carollo knows his Italian food; there's no doubt about that. Formerly of Il Fornaio in LoDo and Tuscany in San Diego, previously in the kitchen of the Grand Hotel in Florence and, before that, the classrooms of the Italian Culinary School in Venice, Carollo has half a world's worth of miles and meals under his belt. And now he has a restaurant of his own, where he can put all that experience to good use.
Venice's roster is pure Italian. Carollo's not about to try to sneak lemongrass into something or surprise you with a sudden detour from the culinary canon he grew up with. The menu is filled with good pastas, excellent appetizers, and desserts that I wouldn't miss even if I were stuffed to the larynx with ravioli and had to chop them into lines and snort 'em.
That said, I had two very different meals at Venice.
My six o'clock dinner last week was with Pippi, my culinary partner in crime. The wait wasn't really that long -- it just felt that way, because I could smell the calamari frying from the parking lot, and I was ravenous. The restaurant is small and crowded, with just enough space between the tables so that you don't feel like you're sitting on the lap of the guy next to you, but not much more than that. And there's no lobby, just a front door that opens straight into the dining room. But still, the few minutes spent standing and drooling over other people's dinners were not wasted.
Not only did I salivate over some good- looking meals, but I also got to see a wonderful display of this year's style in trophy wives for elder businessmen. It seems frosted hair is big this season, as are giant, gaudy gold bracelets and pastel pantsuits. For a moment it felt like I'd walked into a wrap party for unpaid extras from GoodFellas.
A few minutes later, I knew I had. We were seated next to a couple sharing what appeared to be their 130th wedding anniversary and very loudly discussing the trouble with people of the Jewish persuasion. Only they weren't using the word "Jewish," but rather a slur rhyming with "bike." Charming, right? Actually, only the husband appeared to have problems with "bikes"; the wife seemed merely embarrassed by the mention of them. I should also add that Pippi, coming from a family of partly "bike"-ish descent, was ready to put a cocktail fork in this gentleman's eye, and a gross display of physical violence was barely averted by the timely arrival of our server.
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