Here's a first for me: menu humility in a world of rampant one-upmanship. A note on The Villa's menu reads, "To enjoy the best Italian food in Colorado Springs, stop by the Roman Villa."
Wow. One Italian eatery directing me to another for "the best." Now that's sauce.
OK, OK, The Villa sits in Palmer Lake, so it technically has nothing to lose by crowning Colorado Springs' best. But there's more to it than that: The Villa and Roman Villa share history, most concisely wrapped up in our Oct. 20, 2011 Side Dish column.
The short of it is that this location originally opened in 1956 as Roman Villa by family friends of the folks who continue to run North Nevada Avenue's iconic Italian stop. And today's Villa co-owners, Chris and Kerri Bohler, met at the original Villa, open from 1980 to 2000 under another proprietor.
Chris served as head chef there from 1986 to 1993, before running the B&E Filling Station for 14 years. After selling it and dabbling elsewhere for a bit, Chris says he and Kerri realized that they missed running an eatery. With this neatly adorned Villa, they saw a chance at restoring the spot's glory days, when he says people would drive from all over just for lasagna.
Chris says they're aiming for an affordable "throwback to what we believe Italian should be ... not real difficult as far as taste profiles," even if a few entrées befit white tablecloths, like pork osso bucco and braised lamb shank ($18 each).
Starters fall somewhere in the middle, with flavorful crab and crawfish cakes ($8) getting a delicious citrus Asiago cream treatment; our cakes were a bit mushy and room temp-ish, though, needing a longer sear. A mostly successful interpretation of Mozzarella in Carrozza ($7) wraps the warmed cheese in prosciutto and then a tempura-like Peroni beer batter next to an oregano-dominant but pleasant house marinara.
Soups and salads, included with entrée options, continue with simplicity, but bright flavors. A heavy and zesty tomato bisque; kale soup, with the leaves popping in an Italian wedding-like broth; garlic Parmesan and Mae Ploy-esque dressings indeed dressing up greens.
Then there's the giant cut of Lasagna Verde ($11), four basic inputs in classic harmony: marinara, ricotta, spinach and a house five-cheese blend. Maybe not worth a drive all by itself, but just plain good.
Rising a touch in complexity, there's the enjoyable (though ethically embattled) Veal Artichoke ($16), whose thick white wine cream sauce is heightened by the briny bite of capers and the art hearts. Then our favorite: fat, well-seared sea scallops ($16) over pasta (a gluten-free rice pasta holds up fine as a sub), with a Capicola-spiked, oily cheese and cream sauce also buoyed by bacon slivers.
Lastly, from a rotating specials list came half a duck in orange sauce ($20): too dry on the inside, lacking crisp skin and, surprisingly, citrus notes, served with nice crisp vegetable slivers but visibly burned polenta cakes.
Desserts ($4) also stumble slightly, the tiramisu's dry, inconsistent ladyfingers sullying the ideal coffee flavor. Both an Italian cherry and cherry chocolate custard under mascarpone cream again deliver pleasing flavors, but are texturally imperfect, with overly congealed edges and inconsistent form.
That rough-around-the-edges theme somewhat pegs today's Villa as it gets underway; plenty of promise, but a couple tweaks away from legacy-ready plates.