Tonino Restaurant & Wine Bar is a fragrant cauldron stewing with aromas that stir the senses. The food and scents will definitely lure you to this Murrieta establishment, but the unique ambiance might keep you there for a while. A long while. It’s a dining adventure similar to what I have experienced in Europe. If you choose to order a number of courses, then enjoy them slowly over conversation, the evening stretches on…one hour…two hours… Of course you could bypass the grazing and eat and dash if you prefer. It’s your decision.
Tony and Marie Saad, the husband and wife who own and run the establishment, were both born overseas. Tony’s home country is Egypt, and Marie is from Italy. The two have roots in different countries, but they do share a love of fine cuisine, and a dream of presenting it in a warm, welcoming atmosphere. When they say, “Benvenuti,” they most definitely mean it. Fine cuisine is the anchor of the restaurant, but the couple’s welcoming demeanor is the anchor chain.
Tony owned a restaurant in Alexandria, Egypt, which is on the Mediterranean, so the recipes he uses in his Murrieta establishment have a Mediterranean flair. For instance, diners can enjoy Falafel – fried chickpea patties, and also feast on colorful Dolmes, a spiced ground beef and rice mix rolled tightly in grape leaves.
Italian dishes form the majority of the restaurant’s menu items. Marie’s family had restaurants in Bari, located on the Adriatic Sea in southern Italy, so the recipes that she uses reflect the tastes of that region. In addition to using family recipes, Marie creates some of her own. Chef Todd Reeve also develops recipes, and is a valuable asset in the kitchen.
Their food is always fresh. Tony does all of his own shopping – twice a week – at local markets.
“We never use frozen or canned food,” he explained, “food changes flavor when you keep it.”
I visited Tonino on a Saturday night, and the atmosphere was brimming with cheer. Happy chatter and music rose to every corner of the restaurant. A delightful accordion player strolled from table to table playing a lively repertoire, and after a while, continued to entertain guests from a keyboard. The atmosphere made me feel like I was an extra in some Italian movie.
Chosen from the Antipasto menu, the Burrata Mozzarella was fresh, smooth and creamy. The mozzarella encased a creamy ricotta cheese interior. Served on a bed of fresh basil leaves and sliced tomatoes, the appetizer was then doused with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic glaze. The glaze lent a flavor pop to the otherwise mild cheese.
A sizzling chicken kabob was set before me. The juicy Shish Taouk is a traditional Egyptian dish. Tender chicken is marinated in spices, skewered with onions and green and red bell peppers, then grilled. It’s a vibrant dish, both in presentation and flavor. A mound of house-made hummus, complete with Mediterranean flavors, including olive oil and paprika, nudged the kabob on the plate. No need for a spoon – I just scooped up the hummus with the warm, grilled pita bread as they would in Egypt.
The menu bursts with traditional Italian pasta entrées – some with the touch of Marie’s mother. One dish, the Gnocchi – “Di Mamma,” featured Italian home-style gnocchi. Soft, pillow-like, bite-sized dumplings were awash in a special marinara sauce. The savory sauce was swirled with parmesan cheese and basil – the creative way Marie’s mother would make it.
A sophisticated Italian finale to the meal was Spumoni Bomba, an artistic and decadent dessert. The strawberry, pistachio and chocolate gelato trio wore a delightful chocolate coat, drizzled with chocolate. Rosettes of cream and fresh mint leaves punctuated the plate. The gelato was light and smooth, and the pistachio, chocolate and strawberry flavors made a heavenly threesome.
If you have dined in Europe you can relive the pleasures at Tonino, and if you haven’t, enjoy a snippet of the experience at this restaurant where, each night, the inventive food leaves a culinary legacy.
Tonino Restaurant & Wine Bar is located at 24530 Village Walk Place, Murrieta, Calif. For more information access the web address, www.toninorestaurant.com, or call, (951) 600-0303. Enjoy live music on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.