Torino’s Italian Ristorante cooks it fresh

By From page A3 | July 08, 2013


TORINO'S ITALIAN RISTORANTE CHEF Will Towle of Placerville fires up braised beef tips for Tortellini Mama Rosa in the kitchen, Democrat photos by Shelly Thorene

The influx of new businesses on Main Street is a good thing and when one of the businesses is a restaurant, it’s especially welcome. Torino’s Italian Ristorante, 251 Main St. in Placerville, is the latest in the Rodriguez family’s band of eateries, which include Cascada and Brick’s, also on Main Street, Los Pinos in Cameron Park and Cascada in El Dorado Hills.

Torino’s is named in honor of Turin, Italy’s, soccer team, the “Grande Torino,”— a legend in the soccer world. The undefeated team took five soccer championships from 1943 to 1949, despite WWII, the incarceration of one of their coaches in a Nazi concentration camp and being stoned by the Neapolitan fans for winning. Most of the team, along with coaches, journalists and the flight crew, died in a plane crash in 1949, returning from Lisbon to Turin. Despite the national mourning, the reserve team won the team’s sixth championship that same year.

The “Grande Torino” is a big idea to live up to, but Torino’s has a lot to offer. From the beautiful embossed tin ceiling and mellow brick of the historical building, to the full bar, to happy hour, lunch and dinner menus, take-out ordering and plenty of home-made Italian food and beverages, Torino’s strives to please their customers.

Chef Will Towle, 35, originally from Maine where he grew up eating his mom’s delicious Italian dishes, is busy in the kitchen where he and four cooks make the bread, pastries, pastas,desserts, sauces all by hand. After culinary school, Towle spent three years in Germany, close enough to visit Italy frequently. “I spent a lot of time in Tuscany and Umbria, eating and learning about Italian food.”

The rear of the restaurant past the bar has smaller tables and dimmer, romantic lighting. The front of Torino’s is brighter with many tables of varying sizes, including a communal table that seats 12. “In Italy, dinner is course-by-course and takes two-three hours,” said Towle. “Most Americans want to get in and get out, but here we try to let people breathe a little and take their time.”

The happy hour menu is from 3-6 p.m., Monday through Friday and includes Torino’s Black Truffle  Frites, a grilled beef brochette, an asparagas rissotto cake, spinach dip on foccacia bread, clams and lamb chops. On the lunch and dinner menus there is antipasti, like the meatball sliders and mozzarella sticks — crunchy crust outside with creamy mozzarella and proscuttio wrapped around basil inside.

“We make our own mozzarella,” said Towle who hand stretches the whey into soft balls of cheese. “Once, I was on the Chianti Trail in Italy and I had mozzarella so fresh it hadn’t even set up yet. I wanted to do that for our restaurant.”

Lunch and dinner menus offer salads like Chicken Arugula, soups like Parmesan Asparagus, paninis, pastas and a wide variety of entrées.

The restaurant has only been open since April, but is doing well according to Laura Hartwick, the restaurant manager who also designed the decor. But don’t expect the same exact menu every night. Chef Towle likes to mix it up and seafood is his specialty. “Last week, I made scallops on rosemary skewers and everyone loved them and we also offered Veal Canneloni, which was a big hit.”

While a Tuscan white bread is always offered, the cooks make a second bread  for the dinner service which might be an herbal bread, kalamata olive, walnut and berry — whatever strikes their fancy. It is served with olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping.

There is also a gluten-free pasta dish and a gluten-free flourless chocolate Grand Marnier torte for dessert. Chef Towle said he talks to customers to try to accommodate any special dietary needs.”We really bend over backward to cook what people want.”

The current most popular dinner entree, the Tortellini Mama Rosa, is braised beef tips and tortellini cooked in a basil vodka sauce. “We make the basil vodka for the sauce ourselves,” said Towle, “and the Limoncello as well.”

The beef for the hand cut steaks and the tortellini is marinated for three-four days in an herbal marinade. Pesto Prawns with jumbo prawns on a small mountain of pasta with pesto sauce and sun-dried tomato, Linguini with fresh pink sea clams, Chicken Marsala, Veal Piccatta, Angus Steak are just a few of the many offerings.

The dessert menu includes house-made chocolate truffles served with or without Narrowgate Chocolate Port , raspberry tiramisu and Espresso Cheesecake, among other offerings, and all made in-house.

The full bar serves Italian beers on draft as well as a full complement of wines, beers and other spirits. There is a specialty drink menu with Torino’s own Summer Punch using that home-made Limoncello.

Three ladies sit at one of the small tables in the back of the restaurant, celebrating a birthday. “We had the garlic bread — killer stuff — the meatball sliders and the mozzarella sticks,” said one. “This is a great place to come and we love the food.”

Entrepreneur and author, Shari Fitzpatrick, said she loves to come to Torino’s for a glass of wine and a salad at the bar. “The music is Sinatra or something easy and it’s so refreshing… and the food is great.”

“Food is about having a good time — it’s family time,” said Towle.

Torino’s is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner. Hours are Monday-Thursday and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Call 530 622-7503 or visit the Website at for more information.

Contact Wendy Schultz at 530 344-5069 or [email protected] Follow @wschultzMtDemo on Twitter.

Wendy Schultz

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