Capriccio, Inc.
298 E. Main St., Ventura
Happy hour food $5-10; Dinner $4.50-20

With the recent (and expected) spike in gas prices, as well as the usual cost of living increases, finding a nice restaurant that offers quality food at affordable prices can be a real ordeal. Even fast food can be pricey when it comes to getting a filling and well-rounded meal. So it is rather serendipitous that Capriccio on Main Street is now offering a happy hour with small plates of classic Italian favorites.

Happy hour is only available Monday through Thursday, 4-6 p.m., but this is a new feature of the longstanding Capriccio, now under new ownership. While the regular dinner menu offers tantalizing dishes such as linguini pescatore ($20), crab cannelloni ($16.95) and chicken picatta ($15.95), along with a dozen specialty pizzas made in house (starting at $12), we opted for eggplant parmigiana ($7), calamari ($7), mussels ($8) and shrimp scampi ($8). Though we didn’t indulge in the happy hour drink specials, they include $3 beer in the bottle and $6 glasses of wine. (On Wednesday, happy hour wine prices last all night.) We chose soda and quickly devoured two small, warm, homemade loaves of rosemary bread, complemented by olive oil and vinegar.

As we waited for our meal to come, I recalled my last visit to Capriccio years before, when Tim Hockett from Community Action was set to retire. The atmosphere hasn’t changed much, if at all, with its simply rustic feel, wood chairs, marble-esque table tops, white walls and exposed brick, but the real appeal for me are the large windows that bring in a lot of soothing natural light. My companion and I had planned to go to see The Offspring later that night, so we were way ahead of schedule when our orders came out promptly. The quality truly shined.

The house marinara sauce, a robust orange-ish red sauce, was clearly prepared with care. My partner mentioned that he felt that the preparation reminded him more of a Mediterranean-style sauce. Whatever the case, it would be a welcomed trade on any of my own homemade pasta dishes. The sauce topped our order of eggplant parmesan, which included three round slices of eggplant, battered, coated in bread crumbs and baked. The slices were then covered in sauce and baked again with thick slices of mozzarella. The eggplant cut easily and the stringy mozzarella made it feel like an indulgence. This dish could easily serve as a whole meal.

Next out:  plump large shrimp, barely pink and deveined, cooked in garlic and butter and sprinkled with fresh parsley. These shrimp tasted as if they had just been fished from the sea.

The rings of calamari were tender, coated in a light batter and fried and served with the house marinara. Again, a healthy portion that could easily substitute for a light meal.

Our favorite of all were the mussels, cooked in a lemony, lightly salty, spicy butter sauce, a beurre blanc perhaps. The sauce itself was pure bliss for my taste buds as I coyly started sipping it with a spoon. The mussels were definitely a surprise. My companion and I aren’t traditionally fans of the shellfish, which are often fishy smelling, sometimes crunchy from bits of sand and almost always small. These mussels were almost full bite-sized portions, a healthy light orange color, with none of the aforementioned detriments. In fact, we both agreed that these may have been the best mussels we have had in recent memory.

Not only did we get our fill during happy hour, but we made good time and our whole order came to $32.33 for a night out. When looking at the definitions of Capriccio, one in particular — a painting or other work of art representing a fantasy or a mixture of real and imaginary features — seems to resonate in a romantic sort of way. With a relaxing dining room, pleasant service and delicious food at affordable prices, Capriccio seems to be a fitting name.