The Mad Rose
543 E. Main St.
Ventura
805-628-3913
$5-$30


Italian cuisine and culture is in my blood, literally, and that is why I am more selective with the genre than any other. Coming from Italian-Sicilian heritage, some of my most nostalgic memories are of standing next to my grandmother in the kitchen, barely able to see over the countertop, and being her official taste tester. I can still hear the heavy accent of her native tongue while she sang out, “Mangia, mangia,” holding a spoonful of all-day-simmered red sauce for me to approve.

It’s that very reason why I seldom leave an Italian restaurant feeling authentically satisfied. I mean let’s face it, grandma’s culinary shoes are some big ones to fill. So when The Mad Rose moved into the former ATM kiosk next to the movie theater on Main Street, I was somewhat skeptical. Upon my visit, however, the concerns melted away like a rich dollop of butter in the pan.

The brainchild of long time Ventura county restauranteur Giovanni Tromba (Table 13, Bistro 13), along with partner Meghan Davy, The Mad Rose is aiming to bring the lighter, healthier side of Italian food to the table. And while the menu features the usual cast of colorful characters, there is a health-conscious construction behind each dish. Combined with a contemporary ambiance and a stunning glass bar top that includes a sea of pennies beneath it, and you get a hip and healthy addition to the burgeoning Main Street foodie scene.

The happy hour menu at The Mad Rose is abbreviated, but offers both affordability and quality. As well, the hours are 4-7, giving patrons an extra hour to grab a bite before movie night next door. I decided to go with the two salad options to keep it light and fresh. The first was the caprese with pan-fried salmon, a staple antipasto with a side of protein. The mozzarella was smooth and the tomatoes were sweet, with bursts of basil to accent both, while the salmon filet was crispy and clean, allowing for the naturally distinct flavor to mesh with the other plate players. The second salad consumed was a classic Greek, which mixed red peppers, olives, cucumber and feta with a grilled chicken breast. It had the typical flavors and emphasized the freshness of the produce more than any other aspect. Both were liberally portioned and also included crispy garlic Parmesan bread, not too shabby for $7.95 each. Wine, beer and sake cocktails are a reasonable $5 as well.

Moving on to the main courses, I decided to indulge in two of my favorite Italian dishes. The first was a staple of my grandmother’s, eggplant melanzane. And while most Italian households have their own unique interpretation of this dish, not all reign as supreme as what The Mad Rose offers. Choosing to construct the eggplant in lasagna form, including roasted red and yellow peppers, onions and basil in the fold, the freshness of the veggies alone would have sufficed for an acceptable rendition. The addition of smoked mozzarella slices, however, brought every bite to the foreground of the flavorscape, setting the meal off in a truly incendiary manner.

The other half of the entree order was the headliner of the night, though — mushroom and filet mignon risotto. Decadently loaded with multiple mushroom varieties and a generous amount of succulent filet, each bite was better than the previous. And by not drowning the dish in sauce, the texture of the risotto could be appreciated for its distinct taste. It was a work of art and one that I will absolutely be returning to indulge in.

Saving room for dessert, and considering that the temperature was in the high 80s that day, there seemed no more appropriate item to choose than the lemon sorbet. Presented as a whole lemon that had been filled with the sorbet and dollops of whipped cream, this sweet and refreshing treat was classily artisan, and a fantastic way to finish off the evening.

The Mad Rose is a welcome addition to the Main Street restaurant family, and if I can emphasize one characteristic about Italians, it’s that they’re all about family. So take the advice of my grandmother and go mangia!