305 West Venice Avenue | Venice, FL 34285-2004 | 941.485.0507
Over two-and-a-half years have passed since I last dined at Cassariano, a lovely little Italian restaurant on Venice Avenue in the heart of Venice’s charming downtown. I thought it might be time to go back to see what was new—and hey, the last time I ate there I enjoyed every morsel that owner Luca Cassani brought to the table (I left my dinner selections in his hands at that time).
Arriving around 7:00 on a Tuesday night, street parking was plentiful and seating was no problem. My companion Chris and I walked past several tables of outdoor diners and entered Cassariano to a warm welcome. We decided to dine inside, selected a table and sat down. Something about the place felt different, so I pondered that as I ordered a glass of wine and perused the menu.
The menu’s offerings appeared to be the same, but I did note that one of the dishes I had on my previous visit—the Tagliatelle con Polpette di Agnello—increased in price by $2.00. Left to our own devices this time, Chris selected the soup du jour, which was Butternut Squash ($5.50), and I chose the Insalata di Tonno ($9.50) to share at the beginning of this evening’s dining adventure. The soup was a perfect accompaniment to the just-arriving cooler temperatures of fall with its pure butternut squash taste. Was there anything but squash in this utterly creamy smooth delight? I don’t know because I was too busy eating to ask.
The salad arrived in a huge bowl and was a sight to behold. I examined the bowl’s beautiful contents of Boston lettuce, eggs, string beans, onions, capers and imported tuna. It was so fresh looking and pretty I almost didn’t want to disrupt the art of this salad. The oil and vinegar salad dressing came on the side, so I enjoyed my first few bites unadulterated. All ingredients were delicious on their own, and played nicely with each other on the palate. Adding splashes of oil and vinegar made the salad even more flavorful. Take note: this is a large salad, not a side salad, and can easily be shared or be your entire meal.
For my main course I chose the Ravioli d’Aragosta ($19.50), known in English as lobster ravioli. Chris ordered the Scaloppini di Pollo con Scamorza ($18.50), aka chicken scaloppini with smoked mozzarella. I was expecting, at best, eight lobster-filled raviolis so imagine my complete surprise and happiness when a plate with many more was placed in front of me, all swathed in a salsa rosa, or pink sauce. I declined the offer for ground pepper but accepted the grated parmesan. I cut one ravioli in half, scooped up a bit more sauce, and oh my! Al dente pasta, sweet lobster stuffed inside, and a sauce that didn’t overwhelm. This relatively simple dish was simply delicious.
You’ll find the chicken scaloppini on the other end of the spectrum. It’s served “with potatoes and vegetables” but not on the side. What you get is a very complicated stack of food. It’s a stack of food that’s at least six inches tall counting the rosemary “tree” that’s stuck into the top. From bottom to top: vegetables, which were a medley of zucchini, peas, red peppers and carrots; then potato wedges of the roasted variety; then alternating layers of thin chicken breast filets, fresh tomatoes and smoked mozzarella. I have to be honest: while the presentation was a “wow” the dish lacked flavor and we both thought the tomatoes, perhaps because of their acidic juice, took away from everything else. There was only a hint of the cheese’s smokiness. The potato wedges weren’t tender. Maybe it was just an off night for the chef.
Wanting to continue the night’s trend of trying new dishes, we ordered the Torta della Nonna ($6.00) for dessert. This is not one of Cassariano’s housemade options, but rather is imported from Italy. Having indulged in and enjoyed both their housemade tiramisu and panna cotta during the last visit, I’d have to recommend you opt for one of their made-on-premises dessert offerings. While the torta della nonna displayed a nice lemony flavor kissed by pine nuts, and was surrounded by a swirl of raspberry sauce and two dollops of fresh whipped cream, this dense pastry simply didn’t compare in quality. It may have been made by Italians, but not by Italians in Venice, Florida!
So what has changed at Cassariano? It’s still owned and operated by Luca Cassani and Chef Antonio Pariano. Luca was, once again, working the tables on this night. The service is still exquisite, attentive, polite and willing to help you pronounce the menu items. I had to ask our server, “Did there used to be a pastry case over there?” Indeed. In August 2010, Cassariano closed for a complete interior remodel. Tables have replaced the bar and dessert case. Gone are the beach scenes painted on the walls in favor of muted solid colors. Also missing is the striped awning that used to hang inside. Conveniently, at the same time the restaurant chose to renovate, so did the building’s landlord decide to re-do the exterior, giving Cassariano more outdoor seating that’s covered by an overhang. The look has changed, but the patrons are still celebrating special events, enjoying romantics dinners, and having fun.