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Venda Ravioli offers classic Italian fare and more

The restaurant and market serves up simple pasta and entrees from its Federal Hill storefront

Eating at Venda Ravioli will not exactly transport students to Italy, but on a nice day it is worth the 10-minute bus ride to Federal Hill — unless you are on a low-carb diet, that is.

The establishment is not just a restaurant. Most of the space is devoted to an Italian market with glass cases full of savory-looking meats, cheeses and prepared foods like fried eggplant, pasta salads and marinated mozzarella balls that put the Sharpe Refectory’s to shame. The market also boasts homemade fresh pasta and ravioli — the perfect “home-cooked” meal to impress a date.

A small bakery area in the back of the store offers a moderate selection of gelato and baked goods, but other bake shops in the neighborhood offer more mouth-watering options and larger varieties.

Surrounding the display cases of food are several tables where customers can sit and order lunch from Venda Ravioli’s cafe menu. But do not make the mistake of sitting inside — request a table on the outdoor patio. Nestled next to one of Federal Hill’s charming plazas, the outside tables offer ample opportunities for people-watching or enjoying the sunshine.

The menu is simple and classically Italian, with pasta dishes starting at $10 and entrees priced from $12 to $15. There are plenty of options for vegetarians, pescetarians and carnivores alike, including fresh octopus and veal medallions. For those interested, there is also a wide selection of wines.

The waiters are kind and attentive, but be prepared for a leisurely dining experience. Simple pasta dishes take nearly 30 minutes to arrive, but the bread basket and its free refills makes the wait more bearable.

The bread itself is a good indicator of the food to come — good, but not spectacular. Though fluffy with a nice crust, it would have been better warm, and the olive oil accompanying it would have been better with herbs or parmesan.

The pasta dishes are similarly enjoyable but not superb. Served with fresh mozzarella and a simple tomato sauce, the gnocchi are soft but slightly too heavy. The sauce, while tasty, does not demand the bowl be licked clean.

The ravioli is cooked perfectly al dente and filled with a ricotta-like cheese blend that is flavorful but not overpowering and pairs well with the tomato sauce. The tortellini Bolognese is similarly well-balanced, with small pieces of carrots contributing to the sauce’s authentic Italian flavor.

One measure of a good Italian meal is whether the customer leaves feeling overstuffed, having eaten just a bit too much of rich, heavy food. Venda Ravioli will not induce this feeling. The portions are moderate rather than generous, and the flavors are not distinctive enough to justify overindulgence.

Still, that is not to say the restaurant is not worth a trip down College Hill. If you have an hour or two for lunch, the patio provides a great setting for lounging and eating moderately priced, moderately delicious Italian food with friends.

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