Spasso Cucina Italiana
1140 S. Seaward Ave.
Ventura
643-2777

$6.50-$26

If there 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 year.

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 months.

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 orange napkins.

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 $4.50.

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 risotto.

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.                                        

michael@vcreporter.com