Trattoria Tre Venezie, Pasadena
I suppose it's partly my fault for over anticipating my long-awaited maiden voyage to the much lauded over Tre Venezie. Shoot- just as recently as last week, a very well respected LA food journo touted the tiny Pasadena trattoria as one of Los Angeles' finest Italian eateries. Accolades of that sort are nothing new to Tre Venezie, and I've read on numerous sites and heard from many people that THIS was THE place to get some of the finest Italian cooking this side of, well, Italy.
Another mistake on my part may have been that I saved a trip to Tre Venezie for a special occasion- a birthday dinner for me, my sister (we're twins) and my mom, whose birthday is Valentine's Day. Maybe I should have taken it as a sign that poor J got sick the day before and had to bow out of the celebration. He insisted that we still make a go at it, so my family and I kept our 6:30 reservations last Saturday night and eagerly walked into savor what we expected to be one of the most memorable Italian meals we'd have this year.
We walked in and I immediately noticed that the sweet, attentive hostess was the same woman who so attentively waits on us when we dine at Bistro K. That was certainly a good sign! We were seated at our lovely table in the very cozy space and started going over the menu. We were already aware that Tre Venezie specializes in the cooking of the Northeastern regions of Italy so we weren't going in expecting lasagna. We ordered a bottle of wine and decided to share three appetizers to start- the grilled Santa Barbara spot prawns (a special), the polenta cakes topped with baccalao (salt cod) and a carrot and orange salad.
Upon further review of the menu, my mom decided on another special as her main course- an orange ravioli filled with sea bass topped with a nettle sauce. My father and sister both wanted the papperdelle made with farro grains topped with braised rabbit. Although that sounded like something that I'd LOVE, I didn't want to get the same thing and opted for a wheat pasta served with braised onions and anchovies. After all, I love onions more than anything and I've always been a huge fan of the little fishies. We noshed on our cardamom-laced bread and waited on the appetizers.
The carrot salad turned out to be a nice mix of crunchy, shredded carrots and orange wedges tossed in a light white dressing. Although it was certainly refreshing in it's simplicity, it wasn't otherworldly. The baccalao on top of the polenta was way too pulverized for my tasted.....I usually like a bit of the texture of the actual cod to be present. The biggest disappointment, however, were the prawns- not in the flavor- if anything, it was one of the better things we ate that night. It would have been nice to get more than an eight of an ounce per person. Sure, it was our choice to share the appetizer but for $18, I was amazed that anyone would have the gall to serve up two prawns that were nowhere near jumbo. That's $9 a prawn, my friends. And it wasn't dressed with anything but a tiny side salad of shredded vegetables.
The papperdelle with braised rabbit ended up being the only real winner of our meal. The sheets of pasta were paper thin but cooked perfectly al dente and the rabbit was tender and flavorful- albeit chopped into very small cubes that made your teeth ache to bite into something more substantial. My mom's ravioli suffered from the same problem as the baccalao- the sea bass filling was pureed into such a smooth paste that it could have been made from any seafood and wouldn't have made a difference. My anchovy/onion pasta was so salty and fishy that it was inedible- when I mentioned to the waiter that I assumed the dish would be made with fresh anchovies, he said that it was...even though the entire dish tasted exactly like jarred or canned anchovies. I wondered why on earth anyone, if they really did have access to fresh anchovies, would take the fresh fishies and make them into a paste anyway...? I think readers of Tuna Toast know of my well-documented love of salt, but this pasta was so ridiculously fishy and salty that I actually sent it back.
We had some wine left after finishing our meal, so my father asked for the cheese plate. By the time it arrived at our table some 20 minutes later, the wine was gone and we were left to stare at a small plate holding four, thin slices of cheese and a slab of fig compote. Each slice of cheese must have been less that 1/4 of an ounce- and one of the cheese was....smoked. Now, I don't have anything personally against smoked cheese but to serve one on a cheese plate is ridiculous and it completely clashed with the sweet fig compote. None of the other cheese could muster much flavor either, and at $16, we all agreed that the whole thing was a joke.
As you can see, my experience at Tre Venezie was not in line with the endless raves that I've read elsewhere. I suppose I should give it another go, but at those prices, it's difficult to give them another chance. I think readers of this blog know that I have no problem spending money on a good meal- in fact, we probably spend TOO much money on food so money isn't the main issue. It's forking over a kidney for food that is truly mediocre. I'm sure I'll get a lot of detractors here.....and I will admit that maybe I misordered. I'd love to hear feedback from people who truly love this restaurant since I'm blown away by how much I didn't like it. Normally I'd understand why someone may not like a place that was over hyped (like a Koi or Cut or other high profile restaurant). However, Tre Venezie is a neighborhood place that is as far from a flashy, celebrity-hangout as any restaurant could ever be and any hype surrounding the place has been created by the quality of the food. So enlighten me, dear reader(s). Please tell me what I am missing.