The not-so-secret ingredient at Ovenella -- an Italian restaurant that focuses on traditional entrees and pizza cooked in a wood-fired oven -- is garlic. The aromatic bulb appeared in spades during a recent dinner at the Boca Raton joint. It arrived as whole, roasted cloves with the complimentary bread basket (which appeared after the presentation of the appetizer) and absolutely dominated the wood-oven-roasted beet salad ($9) rendering nearly every other flavor on the dish (gorgonzola cheese, arugula, gorgeous red and golden beets) untraceable.
On the other hand, a nightly special of baked eggplant involtini ($8) favored creamy cheese flavors, with thin layers of eggplant wrapped around ricotta and topped with pomodoro sauce and a thick layer of melted mozzarella. The app arrived without the listed grilled ciabatta crostini and the eggplant was not crispy as described, likely owing to the abundance of sauces and cheese in the mix.
Entrees and pasta dishes are priced $17 and $29 and include choices like Ovenella's Gravy (braised pork, baby back ribs, and Italian sausage in tomato sugo over gemelli), lasagna bolognese, and grilled skirt steak. We chose to order one of the signature 12-inch pizzas cooked in the wood-fired oven for which the restaurant is named. The Margherita pie ($14) read more "cheese pizza" than traditional Margherita with cheese piled thick and gooey and shreds of basil atop the pie. The perfectly-round crust is made with Caputo Flour 00, but it would've benefited from a minute or two more in that oaky oven.
Open since early summer 2011, Ovenella has built a fairly strong following with mostly positive reviews on publicly-sourced sites like Yelp, TripAdviser, and Urbanspoon. The dining room -- or at least the half that was occupied; the interior is divided into two sections -- was packed on our visit Sunday night. We were seated close enough to several other tables in the red, white, and black bedecked dining room that we could hear other diners swooning over their meals. During any season but this, the outdoor seating area (which seems to provide more elbow room) would make an attractive option.
Our servers -- a waiter and a runner -- were fairly prompt most of the time but an awkwardness seemed to prevail throughout the meal. When it was discovered that my fiance's chosen draft of Stone IPA was out, our waiter offered Brooklyn Lager as a stand-in, trailing off as he described it as "very hoppy" (it's not). Upon delivery, however, he did offer to bring something else -- on the house -- if the brew wasn't to his liking. When a runner delivered our appetizer to the table, he seemed to tense up, telling us; "It's very...just don't touch it," referring to the hot dish. And when it was time for the main course we sat for a few minutes until my fiance could flag down another staff member to get new silverware and clean plates. Little missteps, but worth noting.
The space and the concept have promise and with a seasoned chef (Mennan Tekeli) at the helm, all of the important components are lined up. With the busy season out of the way and nearly a year under its belt, Ovenella has the time to work out any remaining kinks before the snow birds flock back south.
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