Constant improvement bodes well for Vittoria Ristorante.

Huge and impressive-looking, and with good to very good Italian food, Vittoria Ristorante in Powell certainly deserves its rampant popularity. In fact, don't do what I did one time - lamely show up on a Saturday night without a reservation - because you'll likely be staring up the barrel of an hour's wait.

But having reported on Vittoria's eminent worthiness, I've got to say that, for a place that got so many difficult things right, Vittoria occasionally stumbled over minor things. I mention this largely because the very fine Vittoria seems so close to being "the excellent Vittoria."

It certainly looks the part. With an extra-large and handsome bar, patio, private rooms and a mammoth and airy main dining area, Vittoria's alluring blend of dark wood, stone, muted colors and gold-tinted, vault-like ceiling speak of upscale pampering. As did its comforting bread service - warm, craggy and enticingly crusty loaves plus sweet butter.

And I got excited when I began biting into the Antipasto di Mare ($13). An elegant appetizer of sauteed seafood respectfully dressed with olive oil and lemon butter, it reminded me of things I loved eating when in Rome. Plus, its mix of fresh-tasting critters - plump mussels, chopped octopus, squid rings, shrimp and hacked fish steak - was delivered in an incredibly generous portion. Then I bit into a few chewy bits - not a lot, but enough to mediate my excitement.

Most entrees come with an iceberg lettuce-based house salad which can be upgraded for $4. Go with that upgrade. Among these options, the attractive and lemony, not overly creamy Caesar had top-notch garlicky croutons, sliced hard egg, and misplaced canned olives.

As for the successful Harvest Salad, its mesclun base had a sweet-tart mustardy dressing that tamed the not-overplayed add-ons like mild goat cheese, currants, sliced green apple and crushed candied walnuts.
A nightly Veal Roulade special ($26) featured a plateful of lovely, grill-marked meat bundles stuffed with a harmonious medley of pine nuts, currants, cheese and basil. Gently glazed with a buttery wine sauce, the veal clashed with - and far outclassed - the creamy tomato-sauced, industrial tortellini also on the plate.

A huge serving of Vittoria's rich, thick and meaty Rigatoni Bolognese ($14) was a fantastic value. Closer than most pretenders to a true Bolognese, that irresistible sauce was simultaneously potent and almost delicate on the tongue.

A nice Chicken Marsala ($22) showcased two fork-tender yet substantial breast pieces coated in a buttery sweet marsala sauce benefiting from long-sauteed mushrooms. This came with a respectable, garlicky and heavily creamed fettucini alfredo.

When it came time for dessert, I had to pick one of Vittoria's Italian selections bearing the name of Stella. See, Stella Chapin is the octogenarian confection empress here (and former proprietor of Casa di Pasta) and Stella's creamy, sweetly restrained, prettily plated tiramisu did not disappoint. Still, characteristic for Vittoria - and this nitpicking eater - I thought it could've used more marsala wine.
Oh well, I suppose I shouldn't really mind "settling" for encouragingly good.


To read G.A. Benton's blog, visit ColumbusDiningGuide.com