By MARSHA FOTTLER Photography by CHAD SPENCER

Cassariano is the perfect neighborhood eatery.


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EVERY DOWNTOWN AREA SHOULD HAVE A BISTRO THAT FEELS LIKE A FRIENDLY AND COMFORTABLE NEIGHBORHOOD HAVEN. In Venice, that place is Cassariano, a contemporary Italian restaurant tucked under the arcade on Venice Avenue.

Deceptively small when viewed from the street, this storefront bistro has two dining areas and a bar that claim the major portion of the interior real estate. But there’s also a hidden back room, private and quiet, that can accommodate parties of six to 12 at round tables. Nice for small celebrations or when the whole family comes to town and wants to eat Italian.

The restaurant’s name is a combination of the partners’ last names: Luca Cassani and Antonio Pariano, both born and raised in Northern Italy. After years of working together in the restaurant business, they decided to open their own place; and this is the result.

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Chef Antonio Pariano at work.

Their experience and expertise are evident. The dining rooms feature nice architectural details in the white brick walls and the exposed industrial ceiling.

Tables are bare wood set with dark napkins and contemporary white plateware. Servers (who are several generations younger than most guests) wear white shirts and bistro aprons. They’re attentive, friendly and knowledgeable about the menu.

Have a drink at the bar, eat facing the street in the middle room at tables or banquettes opposite the bar, or choose the private banquet room in the back if you’re with a large party.

The menu is standard Italian, nothing very complex or too adventurous.What makes a meal at Cassariano so extraordinary is that the owners use fresh, high-quality authentic ingredients, and the cooks in the semi-open kitchen resist over processing. The al dente pasta is made from scratch and the classic sauces are fresh and naturally flavorful. Two favorites with regulars are the veal scaloppini with porcini mushroom sauce and potatoes ($24.50) and the pappardelle Bolognese, house-made noodles with a rich veal meat sauce at $17.50. This is a hearty meal and a challenge to finish. It’s the best kind of comfort food.

For an appetizer I had something I’ve never tried before, swordfish caprese, which is composed of thin shards of raw swordfish atop a mound of spicy field greens and dressed with caper berries (lots of them) and a light lemon dressing. It was refreshing, unusual, and certainly an improvement over grilled swordfish.

The pork tenderloin with prosciutto, Marsala wine, mushrooms and polenta is an extravagantly delicious and satisfying option ($23.50). The pairing of the tooth-some pork and creamy polenta is just right. And the snap of salty flavorful prosciutto only adds to the pleasure of the dish.

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Pork tenderloin with proscuitto

THE VERDICT

This homey neighborhood bistro serves contemporary Italian food using scratch ingredients for authentic flavors. There’s skill and experience in this kitchen. Fine service, full bar, lunch and dinner and music on Sunday evenings.

Cassariano does lunch and dinner, full bar, desserts and even live jazz music on Sunday evenings. Sit inside or eat al fresco at tables under the famous arcade that makes strolling Venice Avenue so pleasurable. Cassariano has lots of regulars who consider this restaurant “their” place, so make reservations several days ahead of when you want a table. For me, going to Cassariano is a bit of a drive. I don’t care, it’s now my neighborhood restaurant, and I’m going often. |||

Cassariano Italian Eatery

313 W. Venice Ave., Venice

Phone: (941) 485-0507

Hours:

Monday to Thursday:

Lunch 11 a.m.-3:30 p.m.;

dinner 4:30 p.m.-9 p.m.

Friday and Saturday:

Lunch 11 a.m.-3:30 p.m.;

dinner 4:30 p.m.-10 p.m.

Sunday:

Dinner 5 p.m.-9 p.m.

Live jazz quartet.

Reservations suggested

Full bar

Cards: All major

Handicapped accessible

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