Midway between Toronto and Hamilton, Ritorno has become the popular meeting place for lovers of good, honest Italian cooking. Opened last year, it is fast becoming Oakville's go to place for classic Italian cuisine.
We are told that its name refers to a return to the ideals of preserving and honouring a way of life dedicated to family, food and love. Owner Julia Hanna, has been a successful restaurateur in Oakville for over twenty years, and for her this represents a "return to the table, the
Italian way." Upon entering we face the "The Nonna Wall", a shrine of pictures supplied by patrons of the inspirational woman in their lives, "honouring the years of loving sacrifice these women have made for their family and friends".
Understanding the raison d'être of the restaurant, we immediately feel warm and welcome. Our waitress is an enthusiastic admirer of the menu, and we trust her recommendations. The menu is a catalogue of all the classic Italian dishes, and some interesting twists.
To begin, the Panzanella ($8), classic Tuscan bread salad, is clean and simple. Full of colour, it is a refreshing medley of crunchy veggies with day-old chunks of bread to soak up the red wine vinaigrette. While there is a generous selection of appetizers and antipasto, we are eager to move on to the mains and try the Polenta Bolognese ($15). Served on a wooden board, and topped with fresh cut organic pea sprouts, the slow cooked polenta has a creamy texture and is baked beneath a savoury three-meat Bolognese sauce, and a layer of mozzarella and Romano cheese. This is tummy warming goodness that will make me ritorno!
The Gnocchi Alla Vodka ($18) is a much talked about dish here. We opt for the "piccolo" size ($12), and can't believe it's the "small". This is Hanna's Nonna's recipe, and the chefs here have got it right. Handmade and hand cut each morning, these fresh pillows of potato, egg, and flour maintain the integrity of their form, and are light and tasty in a tomato cream sauce. Conscious of varying dietary needs, there is also a gluten free menu which I see a neighbouring table enjoying.
Another must-try classic is the Osso Buco Milanese ($22). Slowly braised in a luscious herbed tomato sauce, the veal is fall-off-the-bone tender. Executive Chef Carl Dahl is a star here. Rustic and savoury, the veal is accompanied by crisp rapini and potatoes, and as with all the dishes, it is not heavy, but honest and simple; clean and good.
With a capacity of seventy-one, including eight at the bar, the setting here is intimate, and the ambience is warm and overflowing with laughs and good vibes. As I look out the windows at the rain and passing cars, I appreciate being able to sit here in this family inspired restaurant enjoying good food without any rush to leave. Maybe I'll have another coffee, a dessert...