It is hardly a coincidence that former Coast Guard captain Di DeRubba's quaint restaurant, nestled between the Huntington Playhouse and BAYarts center in Bay Village, overlooks the lake. Lake Erie was the primary reason DeRubba chose Bay Village as her landing spot when she decided to move back home. No longer on the high seas, DeRubba admits her proximity to the water is comforting as she navigates the swells and dips of operating a restaurant as managing owner of Vento la Trattoria.
The little red caboose on the property may give away the building's original 1871 purpose as the Nickel Plate Railroad Depot. Today, it has been transformed into a cozy, romantic eatery with all the original classic architectural details lending grandeur from a bygone era. Chandeliers, candles and modern, blown-glass light fixtures complement the atmosphere and define its alluring vibe, a perfect destination for Valentine's Day. Vento's coziness is also intensified by its size—just 45 seats—but the restaurant doubles in capacity during the summer with its winsome patio overlooking Huntington Park.
About a week before our visit, DeRubba experienced a "dip"—her chef, with whom she had planned the future of Vento, announced his abrupt departure. She reached out for help to the fraternal community within the local restaurant industry and found guidance from Brian Okin, who quickly recommended Ray Garmon as a replacement. DeRubba's kitchen also benefitted from experienced Chef Adam Bostwick, who came in to lend a hand with desserts during the busy weekend crush.
Vento's menu, however, follows DeRubba's vision.
"Growing up in an Italian family, I have been around good food all my life," says DeRubba. "So it wasn't a stretch that I started a catering company before launching a restaurant. There was never any doubt it would be an Italian eatery, where I could use some old family recipes and repackage them with a modern twist."
The wine and beer menus are as exquisite, as are the post-dinner potable options. A glass of Barbera D'Alba "Bussia" was the perfect beginner, which delivered on its promise of tasting intense and fruity with a nice balance between acidity and tannins.
We made our way through the complimentary focaccia and Italian herb spreads with balsamic butter while settling on appetizers.
The lump crab cake with roasted corn and red pepper coulis was quick to disappear from the plate, as were the prosciutto-wrapped peppadews stuffed with mozzarella, basic pesto and sun-dried tomato vinaigrette. Presented as a round lasagna, the eggplant Parmesan was roundly devoured. Pan-fried eggplant is stuffed with fresh mozzarella, basic, roasted garlic and Vento sauce, it was a grand version of the Italian classic.
A cream-based fennel tomato soup was welcome on a frigid January evening. The delicate fennel flavor was able to shine since the soup avoided being overly rich or salty — two reasons I avoid cream soups unless the restaurant has proven otherwise. Vento had been green-lighted on this score soon after they opened in 2009.
My partner enjoyed a fresh-looking roasted apple and Gorgonzola salad with spring mix greens, prosciutto, hazelnut and a mustard vinaigrette. The only difference: they substituted the Gorgonzola with chèvre without a mention — not that it matters to the two of us. We've yet to come across a cheese we wouldn't eat with the possible exception of Limburger and truth be told we'd eat it if it didn't smell as bad as it does.
The hog snapper, the "pesce del giorno," was my companion's entrée selection. It was the first time we had ever heard of this fish, named "hog" due to its ugly facial features. (I imagine hogs are not pleased by the comparison.) The fish has a reddish cast to its flesh, which turns into an immaculate white once cooked. A sweet, flavorful pesce with a dense texture that is reminiscent of shellfish, it was served over a bed of garlic-Parmesan risotto. Caramelized onions, fennel, roasted grape tomatoes and caper berries enhanced the flavor profile of this satisfying special.
Like the eggplant Parmesan, I once again relied on a dish from the DeRubba family recipe list for my entrée: Osso bucco. It is a dish I have enjoyed all my life, but I can tell you that I have never dedicated the time that the family recipe devotes to this ambitious veal dish. "We braise the veal shanks for 12 hours," DeRubba says.
She's talkin' real "slow food," rendering fall-off-the-bone tender and juicy meat that can only be replicated if you're willing to invest the time. It came atop a mound of saffron risotto, the traditional accompaniment to this dish. The risotto was creamy and cooked to perfection. The meat was then topped with demi glaze & sautéed julienne vegetables — a hearty dish that is perfect for cold and wintry nights when comfort is essential.
A glass of Bordeaux from the Dolemite region in Italy made the perfect partner to the robust flavors of the veal. Bordeauxs enjoyed more popularity in the past than today, but it's an old favorite, and this one rewarded the choice with dark cherry, black currant and licorice aromas, and an elegant, velvety texture.
Another fabulous Vento evening recorded. Vento's menu is well planned and executed, and offers more options than one might expect from such a small eatery. Vento also has a lunch menu featuring more salads, paninis and subs, but fewer entrees.
Vento's winter hours will run through April 23rd. Open only Thursday through Saturday, dinner reservations are recommended. Summer hours return later this spring.