Dominic Baker from Focal wanted to take the North American regional managers out to dinner when we were at the annual CEDIA Expo in Denver earlier this year. We really wanted Italian with a great wine selection. One of my colleagues, Ian, found a place - Venice Ristorante.
Venice is located in the LoDo section of Denver (see map) just across from the historic Union Station. Venice is just one of a number of great places that have sprung up in the LoDo area over the past few years.
Chef Alessandro Carollo (right) grew up in Sicily learning the art of cooking from his grandfather. At the age of 14, Alessandro went to culinary school. For the next five years, he studied at the school while learning traditional Sicilian dishes. He worked in a couple prestigious restaurants in Italy, but his dream was to someday cook in the United States.
Carollo ended up in San Diego and began to work at a place called Tuscany. After two years, Carollo ended up at Il Fornaio, a chain of upscale Italian restaurants primarily on the west coast. (For my entry on Il Fornaio in Las Vegas, click here.) Within months of arriving at the restaurant, he was promoted to chef-partner, working at a number of Il Fornaio's locations.
Carollo's work with Il Fornaio brought him to Denver. Like most chefs, Alessandro's dream was to open his own restaurant. After four years with Il Fornaio and with the help of his wife, Sara, they opened their first restaurant in suburban Denver, Chianti Ristorante, near the famous Denver Tech Center. A couple years later, Alessandro and Sara opened the LoDo Venice Ristorante location, followed by another Venice near the Denver Tech Center, as well as a Venice Ristorante in the San Diego area.
Each of the Venice Ristorante locations boasts one of the largest selections of wine available at any restaurant. The downtown Venice claims over 7,000 bottles of wines to choose from. And each restaurant even has unique wines for that location only. And it's ever changing and Venice asks that you call ahead to see if a favorite wine is available that evening.
The Lodo Venice Ristorante is decorated in a combination of a contemporary look along with dark paneled wood, linen tablecloths and subdued lighting. It's a very, very nice place to have a meal. We had reservations for 7:30 and our party of 12 was seated just as soon as we showed up. There were a number of people from the audio/video industry in the restaurant and it was great to stop and talk with a number of friends I've made over the years.
The menu at Venice Ristorante is decidedly Sicilian with a number of seafood and tomato-based entrees. There's also a number of specialties from the Campania and Lazio regions of Italy, as well. The featured dishes included veal, steaks and chicken specialties. It was a dizzying amount of choices of great food.
I've learned that Focal doesn't quite mind if you pig out on their dime, so this was going to be a real treat for my colleagues and me. After getting a couple bottles of wine brought to the table, we began to order our food. I was really torn between three or four items - the Ravioli di Salsiccia - ravioli stuffed with Italian sausage and topped with a wine-blended tomato sauce; Scaloppine ai Capperi - veal scaloppine with capers and roasted artichokes and garlic; Scampi al Limone - sauteed shrimp with capers in a lemon-butter sauce; and the Gondole di Aragosta - lobster and shrimp-filled ravioli served in a creamy lobster sauce. Man, all of those still sound great.
I went with the veal scaloppine entree, but started out with an order of carpaccio that was served with baby arugula, capers and shaved Parmesan, then drizzled in a lime-truffle sauce, then I ordered a salad with their house-made Gorgonzola cheese. I was able to get a side of their fettuccine Alfredo with my meal, as well.
Well, the carpaccio was some of the best I've ever had. The beef was tender and very rare and the lime-truffle drizzle was a great complement to the appetizer. The Gorgonzola salad was also very good. They used three types of lettuce in the salad and it was one of the better salads I've ever had.
And the main entree was, well, it was outstanding. The veal was tender and moist. And the roasted artichokes and garlic was a wonderful taste compliment. Man, was it good! The portions weren't overly huge, but I didn't have a stuffed feeling after I finished.
Our waiter brought out the dessert menu for us to look through. I wasn't certain that I wanted to have any dessert, but the menu items were sure tempting. One of my colleagues and I shared a piece of Venice Ristorante's tiramisu. I'm such a sucker for tiramisu - especially good tiramisu. And it was very good.
Venice Ristorante was one of my more pleasant surprises of any restaurant I've eaten in. I went into the meal thinking that it would be another run-of-the-mill Italian restaurants in a growing tourist section of Denver. But I went away very impressed, fully thinking it may have been one of the best Italian meals I've ever had. I highly recommend Venice Ristorante which excelled in every facet of the dining experience.