Italian chain restaurants have become shorthand for describing those who dont like real food or arent shopping local.
Now heres an unpopular position: Theyre not that bad. Not really. I mean, if youre craving the most authentic Italian food in Oklahoma City, youre already facing a bit of an uphill battle. But the way some people talk, youd think Olive Garden was literally serving poison.
Great Italian food is deceptive. It can look extremely simple, but its the hidden nuance that elevates the dishes you remember above the rabble.
Now lets talk about Venezia Italian Ristorante, 8109 Northwest Expressway, which is a small chain (theres also one in Del City) and has a menu with a few hits and a few misses.
They say pizza is like sex, but thats not true because I have pizza all the time. (Is that why Im not ... you know what? Save that for another day.) And Venezia makes a nice pie.
While I was hoping the Venezias white ($10.95 for an extra large) would steal my heart, it was a pleasant, if subtle, taste.
Instead, it was the classic Italian ($14.95 for an extra large) that had me swooning. It had meatballs, paired with pepperoni and sausage. Big, bold, punch-you-in-the-mouth flavors. And the onions are the perfect complement not diced but long strips capable of generating crunch and that sweet caramelized flavor everybody loves.
The pasta combo has cannelloni, manicotti and lasagna, but it was difficult telling one from the other; lots of ricotta, but not a ton of flavor.
The ravioli and meatballs were better. The ravioli were still largely just ricotta vessels, but they were pillowy and soft, and the meatballs were tender and tasty.
I also tried the Rigatoni Veronese ($10.95), which features Venezias alla panna sauce over ziti with a mix of sauteed mushrooms, meatballs and sausage.
The meatballs, again, are pretty nice, but the mushrooms were the real treat. Some places go cheap and easy and use canned mushrooms, but these were browned and flavorful. Mushroom pasta at Venezia is definitely the way to go.
The lighter the sauce, the better the dish at least for me. The chicken picatta ($10.95) made a much better impression. Its lightly sauteed chicken, still moist, served with a lemon and white wine sauce with chopped capers. This was, by far, my favorite dish ... until the pizza arrived.
By the way, they make their own desserts. The tiramisu ($4.50) is nice, but the limoncello cake ($4.50) was like eating a glass of lemonade. And thats a good thing.
Venezia isnt perfect, but its trying. I might avoid a few of the appetizers next time, but with pizzas and a few Italian classics up its sleeve, I will definitely be back for more.