Not all Italian restaurants are created equal. To be fair, I'm a harsh critic. Having Italian parents and grandparents, I grew up on homemade Italian food, so my taste buds can weed out the East Side Mario-types from the legit Italian eateries. Venti Osteria, located in the Old Port, fortunately falls into the latter category, and is an Italian restaurant which will please all eaters alike.
Chef Nicholas D'onofrio is the architect behind Venti's dishes, crafting regularly changing lunch menus and a seasonal dinner service. A cool aspect of Venti's layout, aside from being rustic and welcoming, is the entirely visible kitchen. If you're visiting for lunch or with a small group, I highly suggest sitting at the bar to witness the chefs at work. The exterior kitchen adds a cool energy to what would could have been just a simple sit down restaurant.
Lunch at Venti plays out with a choice of starter, main dish and dessert. A few options are available in each category, and homemade pasta or a meat selection can function as your main, so a good amount of variety is available. Even better, meals are started with fresh bread (interesting fennel-raisin and regular white) paired with some quality olive oil to get you started and sop up tasty juices throughout the meal.
Soup or salad is always a toss up to start a meal, so we tried both. Venti's tomato soup is rustic upgrade of the childhoood favourite, topped with crumbled ricotta and homemade breadcrumbs to balance the acidic-sweetness of the fresh tomato.
If soup isn't for you, the arugala salad, tossed with pear, gorgonzola torta, and walnuts with a balsamic vinagratte is fresh and sophisticated. Gorgonzola torta is a creamy and strong cheese, offset by the ripe pears, with both adding to a solid salad.
Pasta is a classic Italian dish, one Venti does well. All of Venti's pasta is made in-house, so expect a softer texture than you may be used to, at least with the spaghetti. Served with braised octopus, tomato, red peppers, green olives and spicy 'Nduja, the spaghetti is bursting with fresh flavours.
Star of this meal, and a great choice for meat lovers, is the braised lamb shank served atop roasted squash and creamy cheese polenta. Cooked in a vibrant tomato sauce, the lamb is incredibly tender and juicy. Both the squash and polenta work great to absorb the lambs juices, with the polenta being some of the best I've had in a long while. A very well rounded dish.
No meal is complete without dessert. Venti serves a few lunch sweets: a personal-sized tirimasu, a chocolate torte, and a nutella semi-freddo. We got to taste the first two, with the tirimasu being rich and creamy and the torte tasting like a very sophisticated brownie. Nutella lovers should try the semi-freddo, a popular dessert choice.
Lunch aside, Venti has an extensive dinner menu as well. Oft ordered dishes include pan seared scallops, braised populous salad, and cornish hen with fresh chili. Along with a long wine list and cheese selection, I'm sure Venti would make an intimate dinner for couples, friends, or families.
Better yet, Venti won't entirely break your budget for lunch. Don't be scared off by the Old Port location, you can have a solid 2-3 course meal for about $20. Okay, so that may be more than some are used to paying for lunch, but you're paying for quality and freshness, something Venti Osteria does well. Sticking to basic recipes with seasonal ingredients, Venti Osteria is a great choice for all those who love Italian food.