Ciao bella!

On my trip to Florida a few weeks ago, my friends Kim and Mike took me out for an Italian dinner that was so good, it merits its own blog entry.

Cassariano Italian Eatery is located on the adorable downtown Venice main strip, tucked in among a string of cute boutiques and cafes. My pals said they happened upon it by chance several years ago, and are now regulars. Then again, it seems the staff and managers treat everyone here like famiglia, which is a good thing.

The interior and vibe somehow manage to pull off casual and sophisticated at the same time. Definitely date night or special occasion-worthy.

old fashioned.jpgMike swears that Cassariano’s makes the best Old Fashioneds. EVER. Now, I’m a bourbon girl, so anytime someone throws out a bold statement like that, it immediately piques my interest. I’m not sure I can 100 percent agree with him after my many trips and repeated sampling in Kentucky, Chicago, Indy and well, everywhere… but the one I enjoyed here was pretty damn good.

panzanella.jpgI think my friends have tried almost everything on the menu, and immediately steered me toward the panzanella di granchio appetizer, tender pieces of soft marinated bread atop sliced cucumber; studded with bits of red onion, avocado and tomato; molded into a round and topped with fresh crab meat. No arm-twisting needed here! I’m a slut for anything with avocado to begin with, and when you throw crab in there, too… holy moly. Fresh and refreshing. The perfect summer appetizer. (I didn’t get a pic, but should mention that the bread basket arrives not with the expected garlic butter or marinara for dipping, but with super-smooth hummus. Well played, Cassariano’s. Well played.)

The Flintstones-esque tomahawk veal chop was impressive and hard to pass up, but we each ordered a different pasta to share and sample.

spaghetti.jpgForget what you think you know about spaghetti and meatballs drenched in Jersey Shore red sauce. First of all, Cassariano’s makes all its own pasta fresh in house, so there’s that. The meatballs are made with ground lamb (!) and the whole thing arrives at the table artfully plated with roasted grape tomatoes, a dollop of goat cheese and a drizzle of basil oil.

pappardelle.jpg

The housemade pappardelle with savory sausage and mushrooms in a velvety robe of ricotta was equally fantastic, although I think it’s something I would probably enjoy more on a chillier fall or winter evening, in front of a fireplace with a hefty glass of red, than in the dead of summer.

ravioli.jpgThe pasta I ordered, though, was my fave. I’ve had gnocchi with creamy gorzonzola and walnuts in Milan, but Cassariano’s took this idea one step further, filling tender ravioli with a toothsome blend of crushed walnuts and ricotta, draping the squares with a light cheese sauce and garnishing with slices of poached pear. O.M.G. Heavenly, and so unique.

chocolate mousse.jpgI didn’t think I had room left, but then a classic crème brulee and a parfait-like chocolate mousse arrived. Bellissima, indeed.

This place is definitely on my radar for a return visit next time I’m in the Sunshine State. Molto grazie, Cassariano’s. Mi piace.

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