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Costantinoís Venda Ravioli
Sit down and eat a while

Costantinoís Venda Ravioli

Costantinoís Venda Ravioli
265 Atwells Avenue, Providence
Open Mon-Sat | Serving 7 am-3:30 pm
Major Credit Cards
Beer + Wine
Sidewalk-Level Access

It may be possible to step into Costantinoís Venda Ravioli and not work up an appetite, but itís highly unlikely. The place is an emporium of culinary toys and Italian gourmet foods, both packaged and fresh. Ready-to-go dishes are colorful and varied (not only stuffed half-artichokes, but also stuffed artichoke hearts), and they compete for visual titillation: steaks marinate, chicken slices commingle with portobellos, and dainty racks of lamb are coated in peppercorns that glisten like sequins.

But if you get all worked up, you donít have to wait until suppertime and dash across the plaza to eat at Costantinoís Ristorante & Caffe. Lunch is served at Venda. Meet a friend there whoís already having a bite to eat, and all dieting bets are off. I turned left at the door and strolled a lap around the long rectangular display before finding him at a table. If the more than 150 cheeses hadnít worked up my appetite, the countless varieties of dried sopressata, trussed bracciola, and other red meat would have. Stuart immediately proffered me his plate of sausage slices and broccoli rabe, and I knew I was going to stay awhile.

Venda Ravioli had already been turning out fresh pasta for more than 40 years when Alan Costantino purchased the operation in 1972 and turned it into an Italian market. The place expanded and moved a few steps across DePasquale Square in the summer of 2001, and Costantinoís Ristorante & Caffe opened up in the old building a year later. But lunch continues to be served at the marketís 30 seats, with 40 more outside on the terrace in warm weather.

The chef at Venda is Salvatore Cefaliello. He opened the friendly La Campagnola Café down the street for 31/2 years in the mid-í90s. The Neapolitan trattoriaís chalkboard had only a half-dozen or so items each day, but there was no limit on the care in the kitchen.

While we were waiting for the rest of our feast, I had a glass of the herbally hefty aperitif Cynar, after sampling Stuartís. Itís distilled from artichokes, which you can faintly detect through the pleasantly bitter taste. There are nearly a dozen other cordials available, plus several Italian beers, as well as domestics and a half-dozen each red and white wines by the glass. In an offering not seen often enough on a short list, both a dry Chardonnay (Estancia) and a buttery one (Clos du Bois) are available.

Meanwhile, back at the sweet sausage and rabe. Salís salsicce e broccoli di rape ($7.95) is a plentiful serving, its olive oil juices good to sop up with Vendaís own springy Italian bread. (The bread and deservedly celebrated pastas, which are to be found in some area restaurants and markets, are made off-premises. Let me recommend the fresh black pepper fettuccine for pungent assertion without overwhelming a light sauce.)

A spread of Italian tapas can be assembled from the list of a dozen starters, complemented by six or so pastas and the same number of entrées on the changing daily menu. So we had a couple of fiore di zucchini farciti ($2.25 each). The zucchini blossoms were filled with goat cheese and Tuscan salami, lightly battered and pan-fried. Delightfully, all the distinct flavors came through, our taste buds piqued by the accompanying balsamic and olive oil-tossed mixed greens.

The pasta we chose was agnolotti alla napoletana ($8.95). Four of the fat moon-shaped ravioli were drenched in a butter sauce, with bits of fresh sage leaves in the ricotta filling along with prosciutto. They went well with the capesante e asparagi ($12), four sea scallops marinated in a citrus dressing and seared brown, yet not overcooked. They were served on a bed of mesclun, the heat wilting some of the greens for textural contrast. The thin spears of asparagus held a nice crunch.

Over at the coffee bar, you can inspect desserts that include a chocolate rum mousse roll and a "chocolate loving spoon cake" ($3.95 and $4.95) as well as the expected tiramisu and biscotti. We had room for no more than gelato, but picked two winners: vanilla flecked with vanilla beans, and pistachio, chunky with nuts as well as full-flavored. Whatís more, at $1.50, they are cheaper than an ice cream cone.

Thank you, Chef Sal and Mr. Costantino, for not making us wait until we get home to enjoy these taste treats.

Issue Date: December 2 - 8, 2005
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