BY JONATHAN GIBBS
When you have young, energetic children, an involved, time-consuming job and a host of hobbies (such as finding a house and finding yourself), opportunities to get out amongst other humans and consume food without having to prepare it yourself can be few and far between. Introducing an 18-month-old and a five-year-old into a public space in which you want them to remain seated and restrained amidst a multitude of projectiles both hard and soft and a roomful of others understandably more interested conversing with their companions can, at best, result in awkward moments and an inability to finish, much less enjoy, one’s meal. Nonetheless, offered the invitation to try one of the area’s newest restaurants, Ritrovo, we jumped at the opportunity.
Opening this past January, Ritrovo, took over the second floor location at Greenwich Village, 1050 Main Street that was formerly occupied by Conversations. We arrived at Ritrovo about 5:30 p.m. on a recent weekday, taking a table against a wall in the sectioned-off dining area. Remodeled and redecorated by new owner Rick Mignanelli Sr. and his sons Rick Jr. and Steven, the restaurant fills two bills with its large, open floor plan. There is a wide brass and wood bar with two big screen television screens with the volume tuned low enough to allow for low-key piped-in music and plenty of room left over for conversation. For the 100 patrons the restaurant can accommodate, there are high-topped tables and booths throughout for small or large gatherings, in addition to the dining area where my young family and my old me take our seats.
We are immediately made to feel at home and our waitress, Kristin Giorgio, begins to pamper us. She starts us out with two of the restaurant’s array of appetizers. As the longtime owners and operators of Richard’s Pub on Route 2, the Mignanelli’s are no newcomers to the restaurant business and so their culinary offerings and the expertise it takes to produce them already had momentum upon their entry onto the Main Street, East Greenwich restaurant scene. Installing Richard’s Pub Assistant Chef Eric LaBelle as Chief Chef at Ritrovo also helps the restaurant hit the ground running.
While my sons get crayons out and start marking up the proffered coloring paper and almost every other absorptive surface (including some of the bread) with squiggles, circles and lines, Kristin returns with two enormous plates heaped with food: Calamari Ritrivo and Meatballs Ritrivo. The calamari is fresh, a state of being made known by its tenderness. Tossed with tomatoes, red peppers and hot pepper rings, the dish is roasted and so it tastes light but, served with a perfect balsamic reduction drizzle, it takes on the strength and verve of a dish that could stand on its own. Calling it an appetizer seems to cheapen its integrity somehow, but hey, they’re only words and words are often inadequate in describing the sensory joys of good food served beautifully. Speaking of good food, the Meatballs Ritrivo is another ‘appetizer’ that could stand on its own. The homemade meatballs themselves are tender and savory, soft but not spongy. Slow-cooked and tossed lightly with ricotta cheese and served in the Ritrivo house marinara sauce, the five large meatballs could also serve as an entrée.
While we regroup and take a break to place our main course order, we stock of the bread. Again its freshness is unquestioned, as a squeezing results in its bouncing immediately back to form. We eat all of the bread in the bowl and I eye the piece with the crayon stuck in it. Luckily for my short-term digestive future, Kristin returns with more. In a pattern that will be repeated throughout the evening, the wait staff at Ritrivo seems to show just at the point when some food or drink exchange is in order; Kristin is attentive without hovering. We have some delicious Italian wedding soup and a hearty salad just to keep the juices flowing.
Then we move on to our entrées: A Salmon salad for Hillary, my wife; Fried ravioli with marinara sauce for our 18-month-old, Trevor; Veal picot for me; and bread with peanut butter for our five-year-old, Nathan, who sticks to his dietary principles of eating only animals that we can prove died of natural causes. We have yet to actually follow a cow around for the 15 to 20 years they live if not on a feedbag, waiting for one to drop dead, so he sticks to his guns.
Served with a subtle flourish and not inconsiderable athletic skill, the entrées are beautiful – and bounteous. The Salmon salad is a piece of art, a sensory marriage made to be undone, if only because one can’t resist the undoing. In the battle between the eyes and the stomach, the larger organ wins. And it is a good thing. Again, the salmon is undeniably fresh, breaking off in the teeth of the fork as if it were a chunk of mica. Cooked perfectly and seasoned with just the right amount of herbs and lemon, the drizzled balsamic reduction sauce and mozzarella takes the whole savory package safely home to it final resting place. With a nice accompaniment of spinach salad, tomatoes, fire-roasted red peppers, artichokes and olives, the salad is towering in its proportions.
Meanwhile, the Veal picot is also incredible. There is a knife next to its plate, but it seems excessive for its job: to cut a piece of meat that you could almost slice with a sharp glance. With a luscious blend of spices and herbs, the meat is transformative in its taste. Served with a Cavatelli pasta and the house marinara, the fresh-that-day pasta acts as a perfect palate balancer between bites of the veal.
As for my more gastronomically adventurous son, he devours his Fried ravioli as if he were born in Palermo, not Providence, although a bit more ham-handedly than that genteel city. The house marinara manages to traverse that state of being that lies between being a liquid and a solid while retaining the qualities of both. Inn other words, it is sturdy enough to stay on the food substrate and liquid enough to deliver flavorful lubrication while easing the ravioli down his throat. Too young to understand I had to eat some of his food to be able to describe it, Trevor shoots me a murderous look and blurts a “Daaaa…” sound at me while rubbing a cheese and sauce mixture into my shirt cuff. “Ha-ha, I got some sauce for later,” I whisper at him.
Then came that moment when one has to decide if one has had too much and it is a good time to pull up and stop lest one sail off the precipice that marks the demarcation point where satiation stops and overconsumption begins. We look at the dessert menu and don’t hesitate; we order three: The Tiramisu, the Pina Colada cake and the Cremebrule cake. Rick Sr.’s wife, Janice, bakes the desserts, and they are out of this world. Nathan and Trevor both take off huge chunks of each, eyes rolling in gastronomic joy, which prompts me to eat faster.
“Slowdown, you’re inhaling it,” Hillary tells me.
Mishearing (or maybe not) Nathan adds: “Yeah, Dad you’re an alien.” We all dig in with a determination to scour the plates of al confections. “This Pina Colada cake is seriously the best cake I’ve ever eaten,” she says; and I believe her.
As we pack up our kids and survey the scene at Ritrivos, we remark on how great it is to get out and enjoy our time together. As my son burns off some energy by reenacting great galactic battles from episodes of Star Wars, we take stock of an enjoyable evening in a place that manages to please both families like ours and varying-sized bands of adults while feeding them all well. Our evening at Ritrivos will be a long-cherished family memory.