It was a romantic notion that, by any normal circumstances, should have failed. Her only background in the restaurant biz was as a customer and foodie who took occasional cooking classes until, while traveling in Italy, she met the American family behind the burgeoning Pizzeria Venti chain, and liked what she heard.
They prided themselves on cooking with only with the highest quality ingredients, including oil imported from Italy to make their pizza crust. But Awdisho wanted to go beyond pizza, and convinced the company to let her to modify the menu with a host of original pasta dishes, appetizers and salads.
Then came a pivotal choice. Rather than clustering with the other restaurants downtown on Castro Street, she set up shop across from the Century Theaters on Shoreline Boulevard — a relative no-man's land, except for one important neighbor: Google. Her gambit turned out to be a shrewd one, and before long lunchtime was hopping.
As for dinner, Pizzeria Venti's spacious room — with its burnt orange and tan hues, faux roman columns and ornate mirrors — makes it a wonderful and relaxing destination. And then there was the delicious food.
Kids will love the playfully named bocce balls ($8.50), an inventive appetizer consisting of three cue ball-sized meatballs baked in pizza crust and topped with marinara and melted cheese. The meatballs have the magic ratio of breadcrumbs/meat/egg, making them firm yet juicy. I would have preferred more seasoning, but the dish was fun nonetheless, with a crunchy finish.
After the tomato tang of the marinara, a caprice salad ($9.25), a mosaic of glistening greens, reds, blacks and whites, offered a refreshing contrast. A study in simplicity, the salad's sliced roma tomatoes, black olives and lettuce set up thinly sliced mozzarella and a piquant balsamic dressing. Our palettes were cleansed.
All starters were winners, but the minestrone ($5.75) was over the top. Its rich broth merely filled the gaps between an abundance of thick-sliced carrots, zucchini, celery, onion and broccoli, all cooked to retain a degree of crunchy firmness. Served with several slices of bread, the minestrone exuded freshness, and would work nicely as a light lunch on a cool day.
Pizzeria Venti proved to be much more than just a pizza place, but we couldn't visit without sampling a veggie slice ($4.75). More fitting to call it a slab, its thin crust was disproportionately layered with cheese oozing into a jumble of sliced black olives, green peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes and Italian herbs. Each bite was stringy and decadent with an aftertaste of olive oil. You won't find better pizza in Mountain View.
We also tried the explosively flavorful linguini pescatore ($14.95). Served al dente, the pasta and light, mildly seasoned tomato sauce showcased shrimp, clams and mussels in the shell and bite-sized chunks of salmon and snapper.
In contrast to the loud and splashy linguini, pesto ravioli ($11.95) was understated and elegant. The dish is six large round raviolis stuffed with cheese and diced chives, and immersed in creamy pesto sauce featuring that irresistibly familiar nutty flavor. The color was a powerful mint green under the dim amber lighting.
Pizzeria Venti's lasagna ($10.75) was the most traditional pasta dish we tried. Served in a boat-shaped bowl, the dense, baked stack of flat noodles, marinara sauce and cheese was immersed in a deep red sauce, with only its upper extremity poking from the pool. Thoroughly drenched in sauce, the concoction was delicious.
Stuffed but determined to try a couple tempting desserts, we delved into the impressive gelato bar ($4.75 for two scoops). Thick, creamy and very sweet, the milky chocolate was a perfect foil for the tart blueberry. But the cannoli ($4.75) — the traditional Italian pastry that offsets sour ricotta and goat cheeses with sweet nuts, sugar and chocolate — had a shell that was far too hard.
Pizzeria Venti could have been a run-of-the-mill lunch joint for Google employees. Instead, it is a cut above — and the perfect place to round out dinner and a movie (or a concert) at Shoreline.
1390 Pear Ave., Mountain View
9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday
9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday