By Jonathan Shikes
By Alex Brown
By Cafe Society
By Samantha Alviani
By Lori Midson
By Mark Antonation
By Loren Lorenzo
By Nate Hemmert
At this point, our evening took a decided turn for the better. Our server came bearing a basket of chewy, still-warm bread, and behind her, an eager young man waited with bottles of olive oil and a good, sweet, stinging balsamic vinegar. It was a small basket of bread, unfortunately, and gone in roughly thirty seconds, but replaced nearly as fast. For such a cramped, bustling place, Venice provided excellent service -- informal, yes, but also friendly and alert. If I dropped a fork, someone was there to replace it before the thing hit the ground, and the instant the rocks went dry in my water glass, someone was at my shoulder refilling it.
First course was a salad of delicate fresh-milk mozzarella and whole basil on top of fat slices of tomato so fresh and red they seemed almost obscene. This was what I'd been dying for these past two years. Simplicity. Bold, independent flavors. Bright colors. Usually, I'm a gentleman when it comes to sharing, but not this time. Of the four tomato-basil-mozzarella stacks on the plate, I ate three and a half. Plus the entire contents of the second basket of bread. And most of the third.
Entrees arrived with perfect timing, which meant just before I started stabbing pieces of eggplant off other people's plates when they weren't looking. For me, it was handmade lobster ravioli with rock shrimp in a lobster cream sauce; for Pippi, veal scallopine al limone. But hungry as I was, I didn't clean either of our plates.
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
Neither entree was awful, but they weren't precisely right, either. The ravioli were nicely stuffed with a well-balanced mix of flavors, but stiff past al dente and topped with a bland sauce that didn't sing, dance or do tricks. It just sort of sat there, a bright pinkish-orange against the heavy white plate. The texture was silky smooth, but the taste was a mush of tomato, lobster and cream, with no real punch. I had similar concerns about the veal scallopine. The sauce was thin and tasted slightly burnt -- even though it hadn't been on the heat long enough for the capers' flavor to open up and add the sting that it so badly needed.
The veal itself, however, was perfect: juicy and tender enough to cut with a fork. But complementing a good meat with a weak sauce just made the whole dish more disappointing.
We moved on to dessert with some trepidation, but our meal got another boost from the excellent cannoli. The shells were crisp and the filling wonderfully textured, not too sweet and studded with little bits of dark chocolate. Also, the ends of the cannoli were capped with those nasty, sickeningly sweet maraschino cherries that I absolutely love.
So we ended the roller-coaster ride on a high note, well-stuffed for under forty bucks (not counting drinks and tip) and mostly satisfied.
My second dinner at Venice had all the potential for disaster but turned out even better than the previous one. First, I was seated just after a table of twenty. Second, this was a Thursday night, fairly late, and the place was packed even before the twenty-top showed up. Third, my dinner companion was late. I expected a nightmare. I got a fantastic meal that was the stuff of dreams.
It began with a beautiful carpaccio -- raw beef, sliced paper-thin, covered in shaved parmesan cheese and served with fresh lemon, capers, olive oil and a bed of crisp greens. One has to be verycareful with raw meats these days, but Venice poses no dangers. This carpaccio was absolutely fresh, properly handled, skillfully made and, as served, more than enough for two.
Next, a linguine fruitti di mare with scallops, shrimp, mussels and clams in a good, heavy red sauce that I could still taste an hour after I'd finished. I don't know if Carollo had been saving up his spices for the start of the weekend or what, but this dish had all the kick I'd been expecting two nights before. The sauce was bold and thick, the seafood immaculately fresh and so perfectly prepared that no one flavor raised its fists against a neighbor, and the linguine was cooked just right, stopped an instant short of al dente -- which is just the way I like it.
What's more, considering the crowd and the hour, I enjoyed wonderful service yet again, never wanting for anything and surrounded by a staff who knew what they were doing:
Serving customers truly good Italian food.