Nice Slice

Thursday, August 28, 2003

In the play "The Glass Menagerie," author Tennessee Williams wrote a scene where Jim O'Connor, the gentleman caller, refers to Laura, a girl he knew in high school, as "blue roses." Readers understand the author wanted to express how unique Laura was among all the other girls in her class.

Pizza restaurants these days are one times one million, as the playwright Williams might say. But in Geneva, Pizzeria Venti is a blue rose.

The owner opened the venue eight months ago after tinkering for months with an authentic Italian pizza recipe that uses flour and tomatoes imported from Italy. Despite baking it on a stone and finding it tasty, the persnickety owner still felt something wasn't right.

"We finally realized it was the water we were using to make the dough, so now we import pallets of it from Tuscany every month," he said.

"There's an incredible lightness to the dough you won't find anywhere else, and using that water has made all the difference." Located on Main Street in downtown Geneva, Pizzeria Venti is the perfect spot for a quick carryout lunch or a simple evening meal. A small cluster of tables found just inside the entrance is flanked by a counter along a side wall with bar stools. The high walls are decorated with a few pictures, adding to a simple, yet neighborly feel.

Diners walk to the rear where a glass case displays a number of menu items and orders are placed. Cans of imported Italian tomatoes are on display and prices on the menu board read "4 bucks." All dishes are made to order, with a little head start on the pizzas. More about that later.

We visited during the dinner hour, about 40 minutes before closing. Our hosts acted like we were the first people they had seen that day.

Since the menu lacks appetizers, we ordered two of the pizzas, two salads and a pasta dish, plus drinks. After paying the bill, my two dining companions and I found a seat and waited to be served.

The salads came first and the three of us shared one called field greens and apples, which featured a tender leafy lettuce, dried cranberries, blue cheese, tomato and red onion slices, walnuts, and slices of crisp Granny Smith apples.

The salad was bathed in the house dressing, a yummy Vidalia onion vinaigrette, which worked wonderfully with the fruit and cheese. It would have made a nice light lunch all by itself.

We also had a refreshing summer strawberry salad not found on the menu.

It featured the same leafy lettuce, slices of ripe strawberries, Spanish peanuts, star fruit and the same house dressing. Every food category on the Venti menu includes a "del giorno" option, which we figured out meant "the special." Since strawberries are still available, we gathered this salad was the current flavor of the week. And it was tasty.

The pizzas and pasta were next. We ordered a cheese and spinach ravioli, which, like the salads, was served on a silver rectangular platter with a handle. A piping hot plate of spinach pasta dough (yep, it was green) was wrapped around more spinach and cheese, and smothered with a chunky style tomato sauce and a generous portion of melted cheese. Two little rolls made from the signature pizza dough accompanied the dish.

The pasta was a little softer than most, al dente wouldn't describe it , but there was a savory quality to the cheese, spinach and tomato mixture that worked well together. It might be fun to give some other pasta dishes, like the lasagna or pesto gnocchi, a try to see how they compare.

The owner told us the pizza and timpanini were the signature dishes of the house, and we can sure see why. One of my companions ordered the "everything" pizza that included sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, green peppers and onion. I went with a choice more outside the box, even for me: the chicken vesuvio, which did not include potatoes, but had chunks of chicken, mushrooms, olives and cheese.

Pizzeria Venti pre-bakes its yummy crust partially before customizing it with the toppings. The restaurant's name, "Venti," refers in Italian to the number 20, the minimum number of pizzas available there each day.

Think of a light croissant with about twice the bulk, and you might come close to the pizza crust the owner has brought here from Italy. Both the vesuvio and the everything pizzas featured a light coating of tomato sauce and a nice covering of cheese. Toppings were like any other veggies we've had a million times, but as our server told us, the crust at Pizzeria Venti provides more than just the foundation for the ingredients. The whole thing works magically, and we all agreed this place deserved a second visit.

Desserts change weekly and vary according to the season. My two companions split a cannoli, which was finished with walnuts instead of the signature pistachios.

Walnuts can be a bit bitter, but the nuts on this Italian dessert weren't.

Blue roses aren't ingenious to any species of flower, and neither is Pizzeria Venti to others in its class. Evidently there's something in that imported Italian water after all.

Entrees under $10 is an occasional review that features a restaurant at which most entrees cost $10 or less. Reviews are based on one anonymous visit. Our aim is to describe the overall dining experience while guiding the reader toward the menu's strengths. The Daily Herald does not publish reviews of restaurants it cannot recommend.

Pizzeria Venti 127 W. State St., Geneva, (630) 262-1020 Cuisine: Pizza, pasta, salads, soups Setting: Very casual, limited seating Price range: Pizzas $2.50 to $3.50 per slice, full pans $10.50 to $14; baked pastas $4.50 to $5; timpanini (stuffed pizzas) $3.50 each; salads $3.50 to $5; desserts $3.50 to $4; no appetizers Hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday Accepts: Major credit cards Also: Catering and parties available

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