New Italian eatery worth a visit
By Michael Sullivan 01/08/2009
was ever a new restaurant that had the potential to achieve success, Spasso —
located just seconds from the beach at the end of Seaward Avenue — would be
among the top choices for new restaurants opened in Ventura during the last
For Pierpont and Ventura Keys locals, Spasso is a welcome addition to the
restaurants of the quaint commercial beach district — reachable by just a
brisk walk from anywhere in the neighborhood. For diners looking for
something different and inviting, the cuisine ranges from familiar fare like
calamari fritti and pizza to unusual dishes, such
as carpiccio, which is thin slices of raw beef with
sides of assorted garden varietals. For out-of-towners, nothing can beat
sipping an authentic Italian red wine on the patio while eating a moist,
heavenly piece of tiramisu — preferably during the warm summer or fall
Spasso is an ideal spot to entertain guests or just to take a breather by the
beach. Even when busy, the noise level is tolerable, and the dining room is
comfortable, with dark wood tables and chairs accented with candles and
For my last two visits, the owner and his fiancé
(perhaps now his wife) have been more than hospitable. Like any great host,
they are quick to attend to the basic necessities —
water, drinks and a complimentary appetizer of freshly baked bread and a
sun-dried tomato spread. Albeit the spread was a little bland, it beats
butter by a clear margin.
After my son, my mom and I had all settled in, it was time to scrutinize the
menu. By the looks of the dining room and the menu, my son would not be
looking forward to a pizza with a happy face of pepperoni. Spasso apparently
isn’t in the business to cater to youngsters, so if you have five or six of
the little ones, bring your own crayons and coloring books or opt for Chuck
E. Cheese’s instead.
The menu and specials did suffice for all of our appetites, though: zuppa di giorno (creamy tomato, soup de jour; $6.50), Francesco’s
salad (marinated shrimp over endive, radicchio and arugula salad with Saba
dressing, a grape most reduction, $9.50), pizza with salami ($11.95), and the
special of the day, mushroom risotto ($16.95). We also ordered two beers at
$6.50 a piece, a $3 Sprite and a San Pellegrino for
First to arrive, which took only a few minutes, were the soup and the salad.
The soup was fantastic, and if at all possible, I
would suggest that it be a permanent selection on the menu — at least through
the cold season. My son, as picky as can be, couldn’t get enough of it. The
salad was good enough. Although the dressing was a little too sweet for my
palate, I managed to pin down only one of the shrimp
as my mother scarfed down the other three. The shrimp were flavorful and
cooked to perfection.
Next, the pizza and the risotto. While I know a good pizza when I taste one,
I am no connoisseur of the creamy rice dish. While we all indulged in the
pizza (my mother had never tasted salami on pizza before and certainly seemed
to enjoy the unique topping), my mother and I both agreed the risotto seemed
a little bland. With full disclosure, we certainly don’t go around looking
for the best risotto dishes. Maybe it needed a little pep — marinated
artichoke hearts or some type of meat.
When everything was said and eaten, we were all pretty stuffed.
We had plenty of leftovers, the pizza and the
risotto. I thought the pizza would have been much smaller
but it could have fed all three of us, and we could have opted to skip the
Our final bill: $70.09. That was our only true regret. A little high for a
Monday night out. Maybe next time, we will just go with a pizza and some
soup. Just those could have filled us up. I would definitely
skip out on buying beers next time — a little too pricey for a Stella
Artois, unless, of course, your mission is just to go out for drinks.
Overall, I know I will be back. I live too close not to indulge from time to
time, but I do encourage inlanders to head toward the beach for some carpiccio and a slice of tiramisu. The service was
excellent, and the atmosphere put everyone in a good mood.
Italian innovation At Spasso,
the food is creative and delicious, dish after dish
By Rita Moran 11/21/08
thing I asked our server at the new Spasso Cucina Italiana at the foot of
Seaward Avenue in Ventura was what the restaurant's name meant.
He gestured cheerily, explaining in a charming Italian accent that "spasso" means something akin to partying with
friends. A quick check with Google translations also came up with
Both seem on the right track. If the food served at Spasso is any indication,
there's plenty of convivial feasting ahead. We were treated to tasty,
creative dishes and excellent service during our early-evening visit.
The large dining room — once home to Juro Cho Sushi — was filled with spiffy
black tables and chairs. At each place setting was an orange paper napkin of
good quality; when the dinner hour came, the paper was replaced by linen
napkins of the same hue, and dainty lights were set aflame on each table.
Spasso was ready for a festive evening.
Unfortunately, we were among the very few who appeared to have found the spot
since its quiet opening. Other diners are missing a treat: We found Spasso's food to be interesting and delicious, dish after
Designed and carried out by executive chef Fernando Ortega and chef de
cuisine Reagan Moore, the menu is faithful to Italian favorites while also
being innovative in a contemporary style. In fact, we had trouble narrowing
down our selections because so much on the compact menu sounded worth a try.
Ultimately, we decided on Rocco's Beer-Battered Prawns ($11.95) as an
appetizer, then chose the cream of mushroom zuppa di giorno
($6.50) and Francesco's Salad ($9.50) to share.
"Rocco" turned out to be our server and, we subsequently learned, a
co-owner of Spasso.
Between good-natured exchanges as he tried to clue us in on correct Italian
pronunciation of basics like "thank you," the Turin-born Rocco
Suriano told us he enthusiastically endorses "his" dish. It
features succulent prawns in a light, fresh breading, sitting on a base of
mixed greens drizzled with a raspberry vinaigrette. It could easily serve as
appetizer and salad.
It turned out that our Francesco's Salad also had the seal of approval from a
co-owner, this time from Rome-born Francesco Cionti. The salad's shrimp were
marinated before being blended with tart and spicy endive, radicchio
and arugula. The slightly sweet dressing was made with saba,
a type of balsamic vinegar that is cooked down for a condensed essence of
We had hoped to try just a cup of the mushroom soup, but after the full, flat
bowl arrived we found it so drenched with flavor that we were happy we had
more to share.
I considered a beef carpaccio appetizer. Then I noticed that one of the
pizzas (12 inches, $15.95) was a pizza carpaccio, combining traditional pizza
sauce, mozzarella and thin sliced beef, topped with
fresh arugula and shaved Parmesan. Pizza carpaccio would be a first for us,
so I ordered it for my main course. It arrived with the unusual topping
aligned over a thin-but-not-crisp crust, which with its just-made air was a
fine change of pace.
A young server brought a small dish of cracked peppercorns to the table as an
enhancement, but I passed. Then, tasting the pizza, I
decided that a little pepper would indeed brighten the subtle flavors. Just
in time, Suriano returned to see how everything was going and the peppercorns
made a swift return. They added a nice kick to the mild-mannered pizza.
My friend selected pollo marsala ($17.95), which was a light and lively
version of the familiar dish. The fresh vegetables that completed the plate
were of high quality and included baby carrots, broccolini and small red
potatoes, all nicely grilled.
Spasso offers a modest selection of California and Italian wines, plus a few
international selections by the bottle. Prices range from $27 for an Italian
white to more than $100 each for three of the Italian reds. Wines by the
glass are $6.50 to $9. (We sipped glasses of Ancient Peaks sauvignon blanc and, at Suriano's suggestion, the 2006
Montepulciano D'Abrizzo Vigna Corvino.)
The well-paced service not only saw our dishes arriving and departing at an
appropriately measured pace, but included swift
retrieval and replacement of utensils as needed. The timing and attention to detail
allowed us to select a dessert from Spasso's dolci menu, as we were not on too-full overload.
Our eyes fell first on the cassata Siciliana, a
custard ice milk with orange peels and chopped, pralined
hazelnuts, but Suriano quickly noted that it was the one item not available
that night. (All desserts are made in-house.)
We then began to weigh the virtues of tiramisu and chocolate truffle mousse
and asked for Suriano's advice. He's a chocolate lover, so the choice was
easy. The mousse arrived in the form of a tennis ball-sized mound, served in
a dark chocolate crust in the shape of a broken sphere. It was the richest
concentration of chocolate we've had in a long time.
We relished it immensely, also enjoying its scattering of fresh strawberries,
dabs of sauce and dollop of cream — and still we could only finish half of it
with our cups of coffee. (We took the rest home and nibbled on it for a few
Among the items we would explore on a return visit are a timballino
di salmone appetizer, Italian panini such as the
pollo Torinese combining grilled chicken, tomato, lettuce and pesto aioli, a traditional osso buco and costata di maiale, a pork chop that has been pounded, breaded and
pan roasted before being topped with a balsamic reduction. Intriguing pasta
dishes include ravioli bandiera, rainbow ravioli
stuffed with chicken and ricotta sauteed in butter sage with pesto cream
We found Spasso a most congenial spot, and the food fascinating. A bonus was
the view from our tableside window of the sun as it set over the ocean just a
short walk away.
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