The older I get, the more my favorite part of the Academy Awards every year is the teary-eyed tribute to all the famous screen legends who passed away during the preceding twelve months. The montage of glitterati greatness on the “In Memoriam” segment not only provides a much-needed respite from self-absorbed acceptance speeches and tedious dance numbers, it evokes a flood of memories and emotions as viewers pause to remember the movie makers who have touched us all.
Similarly, the closure of a favorite restaurant gives diners pause to reflect on meals we’ve had at restaurants gone, but not forgotten. Even in booming economic times, restaurants have a higher mortality rate than most, if not all, businesses. It’s the natural order of the restaurant business that not all restaurants are destined to survive. Closures aren’t always the consequence of an economic malaise. Nearly thirty percent of restaurants close within their first year of operation.
So why a dour diatribe instead of my usual effusive celebration of a restaurant I just visited? Ravioli Italian Kitchen, we found out, will be closed for good on Friday, September 1st, 2012. Launched in November, 2011, Ravioli demonstrated promise and potential, but was never able to consistently draw in the types of crowds needed to succeed over a long term. Ravioli joins a number of chain and independent restaurants which have failed in The 25 Way, a contemporary mixed office and retail environment with good exposure to I-25.
Ravioli Italian Kitchen has many of the elements and attributes of a restaurant which should have succeeded. Owner Kathy Punya has a proven track record of success with her Sushi King restaurant enterprise throughout the metropolitan area. Its The 25 Way storefront is functional, attractive and inviting. The menu is diverse and interesting with housemade pastas and desserts a plenty as well as made-to-order cooking. Service is friendly and attentive. With staunch competition for disposable dollars, these factors were apparently not enough. Perhaps in another time and place…
True to the name on the marquee, the Ravioli Italian Kitchen menu does showcase ravioli, the traditional Italian pasta dish made of pasta dough stuffed with filling. Diners have their choice of sauce: Alfredo, marinara, green chile-jalapeño, basil, pesto, ancho cream, mushroom cream, vino blanco, Arribiata and meat sauce. Ravioli fillings are lobster, cheese, beef and portobello. The ravioli are made in-house as are other Italian pastas.
The menu holds no real surprises and is sectioned logically: appetizers, salads, soups, pasta, entrees, ravioli, “on the lighter side” and desserts. It’s not an especially innovative Italian menu, so the difference-maker here has to be execution–the quality of ingredients, their preparation, how they’re presented, the authenticity of the dishes and how they’re delivered. It’s in execution (lack thereof) that Urbanspoon reviewers have rated Ravioli poorly. Our inaugural experience was a mix of highlights and low spots, the latter of which could be remedied with time and attention. Alas, Ravioli Italian Kitchen won’t be given a second chance.
The appetizer menu has some de rigueur standards such as calamari fritti, fried mozzarella cheese and fried zucchini. As with many Italian restaurants, an antipasto is also offered, but this one is presented just a bit differently. It’s in the form of three skewers of black and green olives, slices of salami, pepperoni, mozzarella cheese and grape tomatoes served with toasted bread, artichokes, buttercrisp crackers and an olive tapenade. As antipastos go, this one is a nice mix of vegetable to meat though a greater diversity of cheese would have made it even better.
All entrees are served with a side salad (cucumbers, tomatoes, julienne carrots and mixed greens) with several salad dressings from which to choose. A housemade berry vinaigrette, the color of beets, has a balanced flavor of fruitiness and sweetness. The blue cheese dressing has a plethora of veiny blue cheese crumbles and is both thick and redolent with the flavor of blue cheese and not some thick mayo-base.
One entree not standard at most Italian restaurants is Ravioli’s pork and fennel ragu. Now, if you’re thinking Ragu as in the ubiquitous bottled-and-heated spaghetti and pasta sauce, remedial Italian Cuisine 101 is in dire need. Ragu, derived from the French word “ragout” which translates to “stew,” is actually any sauce to which meat is added. Ravioli’s pork and fennel ragu uses ground pork which is slow-cooked with rosemary, fennel, pancetta and finely chopped vegetables (such as carrots and celery) and served with a bucatini pasta, a long, hollow Italian pasta that resembles a thick spaghetti. The best aspects of this dish are, of course, the pancetta, an Italian cured meat made from pork belly and the fennel with its sweet anise-like flavor.
Years ago when we lived in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, Fridays were, for about six consecutive months, carbonara night at Salvetti’s Italian Grill. Never before and not since have we had carbonara quite that good or quite that rich. How good and how rich? It was so good you couldn’t stop eating it even though you knew you’d literally be sick afterwards. The spaghetti carbonara at Ravioli’s isn’t nearly that rich. It’s not even in the same ballpark. Pancetta, Parmesan and egg are tossed together to form a mildly creamy sauce, but it’s not creamy enough. Nor is there enough pancetta (is there ever?).
Desserts include a number of unique offerings such as a cinnamon apple and pear “pizza” (apple compote topped with sweetened ricotta, fresh pears and caramel sauce) and a blueberry citrus calzone (citrus blueberry reduction spread on nutella and ricotta cheese). Perhaps the latter dessert is where the carbonara’s richness went. Also available are such standards as Tiramisu and cannoli. The cannoli shells are dipped in chocolate then rolled in crushed almonds while the filling is a mix of sweetened ricotta, candied orange and mini chocolate chips. It’s not as sweet as some cannoli tends to be. Neither is the tiramisu which is moist and redolent with a mellow coffee flavor.
The Ravioli Italian Kitchen will soon be referred to in a past tense terms and will be relegated to the “Gone But Not Forgotten” menu of this blog. It’s a restaurant at which memories have been made, hopefully mostly good ones. Duke City diners, especially those who count it among their favorites, still have nearly a week to add to those memories. Others of us who haven’t yet visited Ravioli can still do so before it’s too late.