Thirty miles west of Venice, Italy, is an enormous palace built hundreds of years ago. It’s a castle so grand that monarchs from all over Europe counted themselves lucky to step foot inside, and tourists today feel the same.
If you’d been one of those tourists sixty years ago, you might have seen a gaggle of youths engaged in nautical combat in the canal just outside the facade. One of those boys was Walter Munaretto.
“My family used to live in one of the old servant’s houses just behind the palace,” he says. “All of us kids would swim every day.”
Nowadays, it’s easy to find Munaretto. Just step through the door of his new Sand Springs restaurant, Little Venice, and he will show you the charming, old wood-paneled interior with pride. If you ask, he’ll tell you about the palace and the water battles, and even show you photos of the region, lovingly turning the pages of a timeworn travel book.
Munaretto is in his seventies, an age when most people have stepped into retirement; it’s not typically when one would happily open a new restaurant and stake their fortunes on it. And yet, here he is, day after day, flitting from table to table.
“‘Daddy, why do you get married when you’re seventy? Why do you open a restaurant when you’re almost 75?’ My daughter’s always asking me that,” says Munaretto with a laugh. “Well, if it makes me happy, why not? I still don’t know what I’m going to be when I grow up.”
His wife Candi passes by. She’s as much involved in the restaurant as he, and they act as if they’ve been married not for years, but for decades.
“Don’t arrange an appointment for tomorrow,” she reminds him. “You might have to drive to Dallas.”
They are running out of prosciutto di parma – that rare Italian air-cured ham – she explains, and the prosciutto available in Tulsa isn’t as good. Nothing but the best will do.
So what to eat, besides the prosciutto?
“We have twelve items on the menu,” explains Munaretto, “and most of those we change every week. It’s the food you’d get in northern Italy, and that’s completely different from the southern Italian or Italian-American food you’ll find in most restaurants here.”
There’s pork, lamb and veal roasted or stewed; this week it’s roast pork loin with balsamic peaches and a fine osso bucco. A sprightly fish soup loaded with ahi tuna, shrimp and mussels makes a fine starter, and after that, you might order a perfect lasagna al ragu di carne topped with rich aged cheese, or capesante e gamberi, flavorful grilled scallops and enormous shrimp with linguini and arugula pesto.
In the spotless kitchen, you’ll see chef Enrique Semeria, with fast hands and an impossibly wide smile. Wheeling the dessert trolley is Raymundo, who worked with Munaretto at Tulsa’s Summit Club for 15 years.
“We don’t need to talk,” says Munaretto of Raymundo, “we just exchange looks and we know what the other wants.”
Dessert is a highlight. If you have fond memories of trolleys carrying succulent treats at other restaurants, you’ll see them again here.
“I’ll leave the cart here to tempt you,” says Munaretto. It’s laden with European-style open-faced pies, featuring glistening fruit atop sweet and dreamy custard.
“Worry about calories tomorrow,” he’ll tell you, “just enjoy the moment.”
He continues: “I’ve known fine dining all my life, and this isn’t fine dining. This a place for you to be comfortable, for you to eat, drink and be happy. No fancy tricks here, just things that taste beautiful.”
And then his face just bursts into a huge, happy grin: “Hey, how do you like that as a quote? Don’t I sound good?”