Villa Ravenna Shares Traditional Recipes Passed Down through Each Dish

By on October 18, 2013

If you’d been walking along the seafront promenade in Naples in the latter half of the last century — and I’m talking about the expensive part of town, where the air is fresh and clean with just a hint of the bright blue sea, and all you’d see was elegant hotels and mansions going on and on as far as you could see along the sweep of the bay — you’d come to a wharf where bright clean yachts bobbed in the ocean and nearby a string of restaurants built on piers out over the water. Those were built for tourists… all but one. To get to that one you’d walk down an unmarked pier, past a sign that said “keep out!”, and if the owner knew you he’d let you in. Spanking white tablecloths, elegant yet louche men and ladies hanging about (after all it was the time of La Dolce Vita), no menu. But what you’d get was the best pasta, the finest sauce, the freshest seafood in the world. A taste you’d never forget.

Villa Ravenna Yani Special

I had that pasta last Friday, somehow served to me across the years and miles at Villa Ravenna here in Tulsa. At $35 it’s expensive. But the childhood memories recaptured were priceless. (There’s a whole range of pasta and chicken entrees priced from $12 to $17.)

Courtly, dapper and urbane, Sergio Orioli seems to have stepped right out of those elegant Italian seaside settings. And indeed he did. Back in those days you probably would have found him sporting a well-tailored suit and sipping a glass of wine at one of the chic, elegant restaurants you’d find along the marina in Ravenna. In fact, his grandparents owned one of those restaurants. Many of the dishes served at Villa Ravenna are made with his grandparents’ recipes, or those of his wife’s family. His wife is a great cook too. Villa Ravenna has more than a touch of elegance, and that gives it a European flair. There’s a head waiter, other waiters smartly dressed in brocade vests, and you dine by candlelight. It would not be out of place in an old Italian town by the sparkling Mediterranean.

Villa Ravenna Interior

It’s not the only place in town to serve family recipes. Eat at any of Tulsa’s most beloved Italian restaurants and you’ll be served dishes that could have come from Grandma’s kitchen in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn or Boston’s North End. But the Orsinis are relatively recent immigrants (they left Italy in 1994) and so the food you’ll find here is not Italian-American but Italian. From Ravenna. Ravenna, the last capital of the Roman Empire, was a cultural light all through Europe’s Dark Ages. The city had a long and turbulent history as capital of an Ostrogothic kingdom, later fought over by Venice and the Pope, who wanted to annex it to the Papal States. Dante is buried there. Ravenna, though, is not known for its cuisine (it’s technically a part of Italy’s glorious culinary treasure Emilia-Romagna, but as the chef flies it’s far closer to Venice), and so much of the food you’ll find at Villa Ravenna (and in restaurants in Ravenna itself) is versions of dishes found throughout Italy. Chicken cacciatore, for example, or Spaghetti Arrabbiata. But there are some dishes native to Ravenna, and Yani Special is one of these. Actually I think it’s a variation of Ravenna’s most famous dish, Fettucini al Nero di Seppia. Black pasta. You can get this dish too at Villa Ravenna, and when I visited the restaurant in 2010 I did. There’s homemade fettuccini, colored black because it’s made with the black ink (nero di seppia) secreted by squids, harvested somehow in Spain and shipped expressly to Villa Ravenna. The ink doesn’t have a taste of its own; it accents, amplifies, gives depth to the flavor of the sauce and seafood. The sauce, incredibly rich yet not overpowering, complements the glistening, succulent shrimp, squid and clams. It’s a culinary wonder, that dish, and the Yani’s Special I had last week was just as good. It’s the same dish served with homemade linguini, no squid ink, the same fabulous sauce, and a lot more seafood.

Back in June, Oklahoma Magazine assigned me to write about Villa Ravenna. I hadn’t been there in 3 years. Passing through the lobby, past the little hidden cubicle where a pianist plays music that’s softly broadcast over loudspeakers in the dining room, you can see glass vases precariously perched on the wall.

Villa Ravenna Vase

Carefully hand-blown and painstakingly handcrafted by artisan glassblowers, it’s from Murano, an island that’s a part of Venice, and when Columbus left for America they’d already been blowing glass for vases for 201 years. In my article, I used those vases as a metaphor for the food you’ll get at Villa Ravenna. It’s a craft painstakingly learned and passed on from generation to generation. And so with the food. Made using traditional recipes passed down over the centuries, each dish slowly, lovingly made to order. Slow food, no corners cut. They use the finest produce and thus some dishes are seasonal, prepared only during those few weeks when the fresh product is available. Our appetizer that June evening was like that. Only available for a few weeks a year… fresh ripe figs with prosciutto and gorgonzola.

Villa Ravenna Figs

The figs, slightly baked or stewed, were bursting with flavor. For my next course, I went to the Specials section of the menu. This features luxurious, high-priced proteins including lobster ravioli, Chilean sea bass on a bed of creamy seafood risotto ($43), aged venison steaks with a Marsala sauce fortified with Grand Marnier ($45), lobster tails served with venison steaks ($don’t ask), and more. I love Osso Buco. I ordered Osso Buco made from wild boar shank ($32).

Villa Ravenna Osso Buco

Rich, tender meat bursting with flavor (can I use that phrase again please?) so soft you could eat it with a spoon. The ultimate comfort food. Alongside was mushroom risotto. My companion ordered fettucine Carbonara ($14). They offered to add some sausage ($14 extra). She said yes.

Villa Ravenna Carbonara

She loved it!! Doesn’t she look happy?

Villa Ravenna Girl

She looked less happy when, examining the bill, I found out that the added sausage was wild boar sausage. Ewww I ate a boar! But before she knew, she loved the taste. Ignorance is bliss, as Thomas Gray wrote back in 1742.

The pasta section of the menu has excellent value, so let me tell you what we ordered three years ago on my first visit. Betty and Cathe had spaghetti Bolognese and fettuccine Alfredo (both under $10 but $12 today). The Bolognese was our least favorite dish. The Alfredo was very good, rich and creamy. I ordered the Spaghetti Puttanesca ($12 today), and that dish shone. Perfectly cooked pasta, a rich sauce, slightly acidic, redolent of capers olives and anchovies. I would have been happy to get this dish in New York. On another visit I ordered Chicken Cacciatore ($17). That was a disappointment but I see from recent photos that they’ve redone that dish so maybe I’ll order it again sometime. But let me leave you with the dish my friend ordered on my latest visit. Tortelloni with stripes of Alfredo, tomato and pesto sauce ($13). It’s elegant, painstakingly prepared, the pasta and everything else made in house. The essence of Villa Ravenna.

Villa Ravenna Tortelloni

Villa Ravenna
6526A East 51 St (in Farm Shopping Center)
918-270-2666
http://www.villaravenna.com/
open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 till 2 and from 5 till 9. Open Sunday from 5 to 9. Closed Monday.

Brian Schwartz: Author

Born in NYC, age 0, on my birthday. College in Oxford at age 16. Law School in New Haven, Conn. 6 years travel in Africa and Asia. Haven’t done much lately. Still, I’m the only Tulsa member of the little-known Omega Society.  www.theomegasociety.com

I speak enough Chinese to order food not on any English menu. Spanish French Italian too (not fluently but food-ently) My favorite restaurant is Jean-Georges in New York. But those NYC chefs would sell their soul to get the produce available from the farms around Inola.

“A writer writes alone. His words tumble forth from a magical inner void that is mysterious even to himself, and that no one else can enter.” And yet, the most important thing to me the writer is YOU. Without you to hear them, my words are worth less than silence.

Brian Schwartz

About Brian Schwartz

Born in NYC, age 0, on my birthday. College in Oxford at age 16. Law School in New Haven, Conn. 6 years travel in Africa and Asia. Haven’t done much lately. Still, I’m the only Tulsa member of the little-known Omega Society. www.theomegasociety.com I speak enough Chinese to order food not on any English menu. Spanish French Italian too (not fluently but food-ently) My favorite restaurant is Jean-Georges in New York. But those NYC chefs would sell their soul to get the produce available from the farms around Inola. “A writer writes alone. His words tumble forth from a magical inner void that is mysterious even to himself, and that no one else can enter.” And yet, the most important thing to me the writer is YOU. Without you to hear them, my words are worth less than silence.

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