Ciao Italia!

Venezia is located at 1799 University Avenue in Berkeley. American Express/Diners Club/Mastercard/Visa accepted. Open weekdays from 11:30-2:30 and 5:30-10, Saturdays 5-10, Sundays 5-9:30. 849-4681





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Between the fountain, decorative lanterns and quality food, diners

can't help but enjoy eating at Venezia. The restaurant's high ceilings,

panoramic front windows and courtyard décor give Venezia a distinctive

outdoor feel, and the dishes further enhance the illusion of feasting in

Italy.

A glance at the diverse menu and multitude of weekly specials

reveals entrées that stray from the well-traveled road of culinary

delights. While prices appear expensive at first, the large portions and

unique dishes compensate for the cost ($6 to $11 for appetizers, $10.50 to

$18.50 for entrees).

While the complementary bread disappointed with its hard,

brittle texture, the fritto misto ($9.50) atoned for it by deviating from

the traditional with fried lemons accompanying the tender calamari. The

fried calamari had only faint traces of grease, and the zesty citrus was

biting and refreshing.

The exceptional insalata di gorgonzola ($6) tasted exceptional,

with its bits of gorgonzola cheese and walnuts. The chunks of apple and

walnut oil vinaigrette complemented the bite-sized pieces of chopped

romaine lettuce well and the colorful ingredients provided a muted but

noticeable mish-mash of tastes. Other appetizers include the antipasto

venezia ($11/vegetarian $10) assorted platter and the insalata cesare ($6),

the caesar salad.

The wide array of entrée choices can make it difficult to

choose a meal. Each entrée and pasta dish comes with either soup or a house

salad, and the delectable-sounding specials created weekly by chef Cindy

Deetz don't help with the decision-making process. However, while it may be

difficult to select an entrée, it's unlikely a patron will leave the table

disappointed, no matter the choice.

The waiter served the carrot puree at the perfect soup

temperature - hot but not scalding - and its texture was smooth and not

watery. The seasoning, however, couldn't diminish the almost overwhelming

carrot flavor. Fortunately, the pepper helped add a spicy element to an

otherwise one-sided soup.

The malfatti con funghi ($13.50) contains vermouth that added

great flavor to the wonderfully textured cream sauce. The hand-cut

triangular pasta added personality to the dish, and the great crimini and

porcini mushrooms were well-balanced with pieces of roasted tomato.

The cannelloni al forno ($13.50), on the other hand,

overwhelmed with many strong flavors, each almost fighting for its share of

taste buds. The thick tomato garlic cream sauce with sage and fontina made

the tongue-territory battle occur almost in slow motion with its viscosity.

Nevertheless, the dense, cohesive baked pasta filled with tender roasted

chicken almost guarantees culinary satisfaction, even for the hungriest

diner.

Traditional pasta dish options include spaghetti con polpette

($10.50), spaghetti with meatballs and tomato sauce, and penne alla

cabonara ($11.50), tube-shaped pasta in a rich cream sauce with bacon, egg

and pecorino romano. Other entrées available are the pollo arrosto ($15)

with half a range-fed chicken roasted and served with spinach and potatoes

and osso buco ($16.50), a braised veal shank with polenta, roasted garlic,

grilled peppers and leeks.

Additional tasty-sounding dishes are the linguine alla

puttanesca with a spicy tomato sauce, olives, hot pepper, anchovies, capers

and garlic and the fettuccine con pollo affumicato ($13.50), which has

noodles with smoked chicken, tomato, mushrooms, spinach, green onion and

cream. If none of these daily dishes please, the numerous and ever-changing

specials can surely accommodate.

The dessert menu is equally impressive, offering treats like the

costata di marmellata ($5.50), a double crust custard tart with plum

preserve and whipped cream, and gelato biano ($4.50), white

chocolate-walnut ice cream with oranges. The delicious chocolate paté

($5.50), a rectangular mousse-like chocolate dessert, was served with jam

that helped counter the overwhelming bitter-sweetness of the thick dark

chocolate. Weekly dessert specials also add to the pickings.

While Venezia's food helps transport diners to a quaint Italian

village, it's not such an easy task to hail a waiter to the table,

especially if seated in a corner. It took many attempts to attract the

often-absent waiter, who displayed an uncharacteristic "get in quick, get

out quick" mentality. He was, however, courteous and accommodating upon

reaching the table.

To divert attention away from the busy world of obligations and

responsibilities, journey a few blocks to Venezia. Lean back in a chair,

enjoy the sounds of the fountain and admire the folds of clothes hanging

from the laundry line overhead while sipping an apricot Italian soda.

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