These gentlemen all hail from Italy and have been in the restaurant business most of their lives. Most recently, Emilio and Peppino were associated with the Gray Swamp Inn, Sal Federico's and Franco's. Alberto comes to us via The Colony in Sarasota, Fla. These men's experience and savvy are evident in nearly every aspect of the dining experience.
The interior of the restaurant is slightly more than casual, slightly less than elegant. This jives nicely with the current "upscale casual" dining trend. Tables are well-appointed with white tablecloths and spotless stemware. A banquette runs the length of the room opposite the "sunken" bar. It's cozy, to say the least, but it doesn't cross the line toward being too tight. I noticed that a lot of the folks dining knew each other. I suspect many are regulars from the management's former restaurants. This serves to create a sort of instant camaraderie among the staff and customers. The press release announcing the opening of the restaurant suggested that they would hang their hats on service. Their hats are safe. The level of service complements the excellence of what the kitchen produces.
The menu is a compendium of traditional Italian favorites, but the preparation and presentation elevated my meals above the pale of a "local Italian place." The Carciofini Appetizer ($8.95) features tender, baked artichoke hearts fuming with garlic and white wine and sprinkled with Parmesan. The Arrostiti ($8.95) offers flame-grilled bell peppers in a wonderful extra virgin olive oil with garlic, capers, kalamatas and crispy bruschetta. Excellent beginnings. On one evening we focused on seafood entrees, while on the second we beefed it up. Though there was nothing faulty about either the Rossini ($25.95), two 4 oz. filets topped with liver pate, mushrooms and marsala, or the New York Strip with Gorgonzola ($23.95), the seafood simply outshone the red meat. The Rockfish Livornese ($21.95) was the catch of the evening during our first visit. I'm a sucker for rockfish and the livornaise, with plum tomatoes, capers and olives, added a nice salty tang without hiding the delicate nature of the fish. The Littlenecks over Linguini ($16.95) stole the show, though. Simple food is the best food, if it's done superbly. After every bite of this classic dish, I thought, "Yes, that's it."
Desserts are traditional as well. We enjoyed a firm CrŠme Caramel ($4.95) with two stout espressos before waddling out. The wine list is affordable and offers a couple of surprises. There are plenty of little things that are done properly and they all add up to a very fine dinner. As I've said before, you can find some great places to eat out west if you take the time to look for them. If I were you, I'd add Little Venice to your list of "need to gos." S
Randall Stamper worked in restaurants in Boston, New Orleans and Indiana for seven years and has filled every job from dish washer to general manager. All his visits are anonymous and paid for by Style.
Little Venice Italian Restaurant and Bar ($$$)
10482 Ridgefield Parkway
Lunch: Monday through Friday 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Dinner: Monday through Thursday 5 p.m.-10 p.m., Friday, Saturday 5 p.m.-10:30 p.m.
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