Made in Italy
Sergio and Yani Orioli aim to make customers feel like part of their family at Villa Ravenna, which features a variety of made-to-order Italian favorites.
Sergio Orioli says he believes that opening his own restaurant was his destiny.
t’s no wonder why. The restaurant business is in his blood. It began with Orioli’s grandmother, who owned a restaurant in Ravenna, Italy, where his mother, Elda, also worked before starting her own restaurant in Houston, Via Emilia, with Sergio’s brother, Carlos. It was here that Sergio honed his restaurateur chops, working for nine years before deciding to strike out on his own.
Now, Sergio has brought his family to Tulsa in the form of Villa Ravenna, the newest restaurant addition to The Farm shopping center at East 51st Street and South Sheridan Road. Inside, guests are greeted with black-and-white photos of Orioli’s family, including his wife, Yani, who co-owns the restaurant, and his three daughters, Tulsa architect Yaniser Aller; Yenifer, a ballet student at the University of Central Oklahoma; and Yaniser’s twin sister, Yessica, who lives in Plano, Texas.
It was a desire to live near their daughters that brought Sergio and Yani to Tulsa. They had often traveled to Tulsa from Houston to visit their daughters, and eventually they decided to make a home here, attracted by the friendly people and slower pace of life.
“We love Tulsa,” Yani says. “It’s very nice and really quiet.”
They also fell in love with The Farm shopping center and the space they secured there, formerly the location of Casa Laredo Mexican restaurant. The restaurant’s interior, which Yani decorated with daughter Yaniser, feels warm and welcoming, with red and green painted walls, linen tablecloths and grapevines draped on terraces that hang just beneath the ceiling. Even at lunch, lighted candles decorate all of the tables, and soft Italian music filters through the room. Sergio says live music also is offered on Friday and Saturday evenings.
The Northern Italian recipes at Villa Ravenna have been passed down from Sergio’s grandmother to his mother to Yani, who says she has spent 30 years learning Italian cooking and is Villa Ravenna’s head chef.
Some of Villa Ravenna’s house specialties include vitello osso buco, veal shanks braised in wine and served with linguine and sautéed spinach; pesce alla Roma, fresh grilled red snapper in a white cream sauce with Italian risotto ai frutti di mare; black pasta, whole wheat pasta with scallops, calamari, shrimp and mussels in an Italian sauce of either fresh tomatoes or garlic and oil; vitello alla picata, sautéed veal with white wine, lemon, butter capers and fresh mushrooms served with linguine; pollo alla cacciatore, grilled chicken topped with onion, mushrooms, tomatoes and bell peppers served with linguine; and classic lasagna. For dessert, the house-made tiramisu is a favorite, as well as caramel flan and cannoli.
Because all of the pastas and sauces at the restaurant are made from scratch, Sergio notes that guests may have to wait longer for their dishes at Villa Ravenna than at other restaurants.
“It may take more minutes than people are used to in fast food places,” he says. “We take our time to really prepare something that people will like.”
At Villa Ravenna, customers are encouraged to enjoy their lunch or dinner at a leisurely pace, much like restaurants in Sergio’s native Italy. In fact, the wait staff is prohibited from bringing a check to a table before customers have requested it, as doing so, Sergio says, can ruin a meal.
“We want people to feel at home,” he says. “ … We never push anybody out. We make them feel comfortable.”
Ultimately, the Oriolis aim to provide a fine dining establishment that also is friendly to a wide customer base, from business lunches to families to seniors to large groups.
Sergio says many customers have been surprised at the quality of the service and food at Villa Ravenna, which has been open only since September 2008. What they didn’t realize, Sergio says, is that they were at the hands of two veteran restaurateurs.
“We are new, but we are not new to the business,” he says.
Which also is evident in the reviews from a few out-of-state customers, including a guest who had eaten at the famed Alfredo restaurant in Rome and said Villa Ravenna more than compared, as well as a woman from New York who, after eating at his restaurant, hugged Sergio and proclaimed, “Oh, finally, an Italian place I can eat.”
Now that Sergio and Yani have fulfilled their destiny of restaurant ownership, they hope that others will visit Villa Ravenna and enjoy a meal as only Italians can provide it. “We’re not perfect,” Sergio says, “but when people come and eat with us, they’ll come back.”