POSTED ON OCTOBER 29, 2008:
From squid ink to limoncello, The Farm's new Italian restaurant keeps it real
Perfect Pucker. Authenticity is what sets Villa Ravenna apart. All pasta dishes are made from scratch and made to order. A must try is the owner Sergio's homemade Limoncello.
A home for authentic homemade Italian pasta is what owners Sergio and Yani Orioli want the public to know about their restaurant. Another is that all their dishes are made to order.
The word "authentic" is loosely tossed around the restaurant culture. But at Villa Ravenna, the word takes on a serious meaning. Italian food is prepared exactly as it is claimed to be.
Take, for instance, the Black Pasta dish. Whole-wheat pasta is served with scallops, calamari, shrimp and mussels in a choice of a classical Italian sauce of fresh tomatoes or garlic and oil. The pasta is black, not with food coloring, as Sergio said most restaurants use. Rather, he uses actual squid ink in the preparation. "To give it that exact [authentic] flavor, we use real squid ink, which has been released from a squid soon after it is caught."
He adds that the ink is difficult to get here, so he has it sent from either New York or Houston, where his mother and brother own a restaurant as well.
Sergio, who is from Ravenna, a city in northern Italy, said all the recipes at Villa Ravenna come from his mother or grandmother. He was proud to admit that all dishes are prepared to order. "Customers have to wait a little bit longer, but in the end they love the food," he said.
The wait was worth it.
A friend and I enjoyed every bite of our meal. For this dining excursion, I selected a friend who had spent many years in Italy; he was able to gauge the food's authenticity.
Located in the Farm Shopping Center, the atmosphere at Villa Ravenna is cozy and casual. The dining rooms are warmly lit with candles on each table. The décor is simple and tasteful. The service was superb.
The menu begins, as any good Italian menu does, with antipasti. I asked Sergio what some of the favorites are-- he said people tend to go with what they know: Grilled Bruschetta ($4.95), Mozzarella alla Caprese ($8.50) or Calamari Fritti ($9.50). He highly recommended these, but suggested customers venture out of their comfort zones and sample two others: Avocado e Gamberi ($16.95) or Grilled Pear and Gorgonzola ($9.50). Sergio lauded the beautiful presentation of the avocado dish. A pineapple is cut in half and jumbo shrimp with sliced avocado are placed inside, then topped with their family's homemade sauce.
We chose the pear dish for our Antipasti, and both said that we had never had anything like this combination of flavors. My friend said it was a beautiful combination of sweet (pear) and earthy flavors with the cheese and walnuts. It was served on a bed of spinach with balsamic vinegar laced on top.
Next, I had an Insalata Villa Ravenna ($4.95) and my friend, the Crema di Funghi ($6.50). The salad is made with mixed greens, celery, tomatoes, onion, and avocado and tossed with their homemade Italian dressing. The salad was fresh and delicious. My friend's soup was made with shitake mushrooms; it was creamy, rich and thick.
Entrees on the menu include Pasta, Pesce, Carni, Pollame and House Specialties. Pastas include favorites such as Spaghetti Alla Putanesca, Spaghetti Alla Bolognese, Lasagna Tradizionale, Fetuccine Alfredo and a popular dish according to Sergio, Gnocchi Di Patate. A few Pesce dishes include Linguine with Clams, Smoked Salmon Pasta, Fried Shrimp and Spaghetti Pescatore. The Carni dishes include many veal selections Vitello Alla Marsala, Vitelo Alla Cacciatore and Vitello Cordon Blue in addition to Grilled Filet Mignon and Grilled Sirloin. Pollame (chicken) dishes include Pollo Alla Parmigiana, Pollo Piccata, Pollo Alla Marsala and Pollo Alla Cacciatore.
Our entrees included the Penne Arrabiata ($11.50) and the Vitello Osso Buco ($22.95). Arrabiata is one of my all-time Italian favorites, and this one was quite good. Penne pasta is served with a classical Italian sauce of fresh tomatoes, Italian spice and hot pepper. I added chicken to this dish for an additional $2.50. This was very good; the heat was not overpowering, yet enough to know peppers were part of the preparation.
My friend's Osso Buco was a fantastic meal. Sergio said this dish cooks from 4-5 hours, which causes exceptional tenderness and spectacular flavor blends. People familiar with this dish are going to love it, and those diners who want something "a notch above" the other dishes in the Carni section of the menu will find it excellent.
Veal shank is braised in wine and served with a side of linguine pasta garlic and oil with sautéed spinach. The carrots, celery and onion absorbed the veal's rich broth flavor and the special treat of Osso Buco (for those who know this dish) is the bone marrow. The marrow is packed with flavor that comes alive in the cooking process.
The only way to end this classic Italian dinner is with a homemade dessert of Tiramisu or Cannoli and a digestif, such as Sergio's homemade limoncello.
Villa Ravenna Italian Restaurant
6526 A E. 51st St.
Tue.-Fri., Sun. 11am-3pm, 5pm-9pm
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