If you like Italian cuisine, you’ll be celebrating the arrival of the newest restaurant in the La Jolla area, Venice Ristorante and Wine Bar. Venice offers a wide range of Italian specialties and the most extensive wine list in town. In fact, the owners built a separate wine cellar in back of the restaurant to house its impressive collection of wines and to maintain the perfect temperature for storage.
Located in the building that once housed Tutto Mare, Venice’s look is entirely different. The most striking change comes from stunning murals that cover the entire entry wall and the large expanse over the open kitchen. Local artist Gordon Daugherty created these spectacular life-like scenes of Venice.
Executive Chef Christian Delle Fave and his partner Chef Alessandro Carollo have taken Italian delicacies to new heights in this upscale location - and everything is made from scratch on the premises, including the pastas and heavenly gnocchi. Even the pizza (a staple on the lunch menu) is in a class by itself. The restaurant has a special wood-burning oven for the pizzas and a very special 1600-degree broiler for steaks.
The large open kitchen invites diners to watch the chefs put their own signature on Italian classics. The antipasto “Venezia” is a great way to start a meal, especially if you’re sharing with a dinner companion. That platter ($18) features crab cakes, buffalo mozzarella caprese, grilled artichokes, pecorino pepato, calamaretti and prosciutto-mozzarella rollatino.
You can find more exotic appetizers on the menu, including pan-seared Dordogne Perigord foie gras with grilled ciabatta bread, truffle oil and whole amarena marmalade ($16) and grilled polenta with pan-seared prawns, calamari, mussels and clams drizzled with an aged balsamic reduction ($14). Carpacci lovers can opt for thinly sliced filet mignon with baby arugola, gorgonzola crumbles, and baby zucchini ($14) or two other variations.
The salad selection is excellent as well. We loved the baby arugola, vine-ripened tomatoes, tropea onions, buffalo mozzarella and olives anointed with a delicious Modena balsamic dressing ($9). The spinach salad is another winner, made with baby spinach, pancetta, button mushrooms and toasted walnuts. A warm champagne vinaigrette provides the finishing touch($8).
With about 10 different ravioli and pasta preparations, pasta aficionados will have a tough time narrowing down their selections. They’re all homemade and delicious. Likewise for the gnocchi selections. The gnocchi al pesto ($17) will soon be a signature dish of the restaurant. The potato dumplings just melt in your mouth and the basil pesto is terrific. Toasted walnuts and parmesan cheese in a gorgonzola cream sauce complete this very special gnocchi preparation. It just doesn’t get any better than this one, so be sure to try it!
The risotti are prepared with imported Italian rice and can be ordered with prawns, calamari, clams, mussels and fresh tomatoes ($21) or with fresh spinach and spicy Italian sausage ($21). Risotto all’ Oro Zecchino ($22) is made with camaroli rice, saffron, crawfish, fava beans, parmesan cheese and 23-carat “Gold Leaf.”
When you get to page 3 of the dinner menu, you’ll find the entrees, served with your choice of roasted potatoes, fettuccine Alfredo, spaghetti pomodoro, penne pomodoro, Tuscan beans, or miniature vegetables. There are several veal dishes, as you might expect, including a magnificent saltimbocca ($25), scaloppini ai capperi ($25) and grilled petite veal rack with fresh tomatoes, olives, capers and garlic sauce ($29). The latter is served with eggplant parmigiana.
Pan-seared Colorado lamb chops ($29), pan-seared Petaluma duck breast with pistachios, port wine sauce and foie gras ($29), and chicken breast filled with prosciutto and gorgonzola cheese ($21) are just a few of the other delectable entrees available.
Beef eaters can enjoy filet mignon ($26 for 6-ounce cut or $30 for 8-ounce cut), prime boneless rib eye ($30) or prime New York steak ($34 for a 16-ounce cut). All the steaks are served with grilled polenta in a gorgonzola-mushroom sauce, and when they come out of that special high-heat broiler, they are cooked to perfection.
There are always daily specials on the menu, including several seafood offerings, soup, a daily pasta preparation and a special dessert.
Most of the menu items are also available for lunch, and the prices are a little lower during the lunch hours (11 a.m. – 2 p.m. on week days). You’ll also find an exciting tapas menu for the Happy Hour crowd. The tapas sell for just $3.50 per item - and there are no less than 14 of these delicacies available in the bar area.
Ten different wines sell for $5 per glass during Happy Hours as well. No wonder the bar area is a busy place when Happy Hours are in effect (and that includes weekends from 5 p.m. until closing).
With its striking ambiance, highly professional service, outstanding wine list, and incomparable Italian cuisine, Venice Ristorante and Wine Bar is a welcome addition to La Jolla’s fine dining scene. Valet service is available, and the delightful patio area makes alfresco dining a joy.
Venice Ristorante & Wine Bar is at 4365 Executive Dr., Suite 100. Contact them at (858) 597-1188.