Terrific Torino

This Oro Valley Italian restaurant is nearly perfect

Oro Valley has a reputation for a number of things, but having good restaurants isn't necessarily one of them. But things are changing up that way, due in part to Torino Ristorante Italiano.

Our first visit was on a Friday evening, and we were immediately impressed with the young hostess. She was genuinely friendly and professional. This held true with the rest of the staff, on both visits (and whenever I called for information). The entire crew, from the busers to the servers, was helpful, professional and seemed to really be enjoying their jobs. This is a good sign.

Warm bread with a side of whipped basil butter was on the table immediately. We were given time to peruse the wine list, which includes everything from affordably priced choices to high-end bottles from the cellar of the owners. We ordered a bottle of chianti ($23), which ended up being the ideal choice for both our appetizers and the entrées. Warm Italian bread was served in a modern wire "basket."

For appetizers, we ordered the calamari friti ($8) and the carpaccio di bresaola ($10). The wine was brought to the table with a flourish, and while we sipped a glass, we took in the atmosphere.

There is an urban feel to Torino. The dining room is painted in earthy gold tones with large watercolors, painted by a local artist, of Italian street scenes. Ceilings are high, which makes the room seem bigger than it is and helps keep the crowd noise to a friendly buzz. There is an open bar at the far side of the room. Most of the black sleek tables were filled with well-heeled neighbors. Jazz played ever so subtly in the background.

Halfway through our first glass of wine, the appetizers were served. The calamari was a generous portion of squid in a light egg batter. A small dish of the house marinara served as a dipping sauce. My carpaccio was a cured version of thinly sliced beef served atop mesclun, with garnishes of shaved parmigiano reggiano, capers, lemon wedges and truffle oil. While the carpaccio was good--with lots of nice flavors and textures in your mouth all at once--the calamari won the day. The squid was tender and the batter light and crispy. The marinara was practically perfect in taste and consistency. There was definitely enough for two or more to share--go with the calamari.

Now it was time to order dinner. Seldom do we order the same meat when we go out--we always share bites--but the veal dishes sounded too good to pass up. I wanted the costoletta di vitello al gorgonzola--a grilled veal chop with a gorgonzola sauce ($24). John took veal in another form, scaloppini style. There were several sauce options; he went with vitello piccata ($22). Both came with a side of spaghettini with that delicious marinara.

As I bit into the chop, I was blown away. The tender, slightly pink veal with just a hint of char was delicious in and of itself. But with that blue cheese sauce melting over the top, the dish was divine. And each bite got better as the juices and cheese blended together. This was one of the finest pieces of meat I've eaten in many a meal. I almost didn't want to share.

John's piccata was also top-shelf. The sauce was bright with the lemon and capers; the meat was sliced just right. We both felt the pasta on the side was perfect: not too thick, like spaghetti; not too thin, like angel hair.

The meal was so satisfying, we weren't sure about dessert. But after the server told us the choices, we ordered the chocolate gelato ($8). If you are a chocolate lover, I recommend Torino just for this dessert. The rich, creamy gelato was rolled in chunks of dark chocolate and rolled into a ball, maybe slightly larger than a golf ball. Of course, chocolate sauce was drizzled on top. Add a garnish of a strawberry and whipped cream--beautiful and delicious ... what more could you ask for from a dessert?

We went during the middle of the week for our second dinner. Service that night wasn't quite as polished as during our first visit, but it was still upbeat and done well. Again, the place had a nice crowd; this time, the bar was completely filled with drinkers and diners. They kept the charming bartender busy.

That night, we started with the antipasto Torino ($10), a glass of wine ($8.50) and a martini--Torino has a nice martini menu, by the by ($7). John had the lasagna bolognese ($13), and I had to have the linguini alle vongola--clams in a white wine sauce ($17).

Like all of the other food, the antipasto was nicely presented. The plate held several rolls of salami and provolone cheese, shavings of proscuitto, an assortment of olives, a triangle of brie, marinated artichoke hearts, chopped red peppers and a smattering of baby greens; a tasty balsamic vinaigrette was there for the drizzling. It proved a fine beginning.

Our dinners were served shortly after the appetizer was cleared away. The clams on my linguini were tiny, but full-flavored and plentiful. The sauce was a pleasant blend of clam juices, butter, wine and plenty of minced garlic. This is one of my favorite dishes in the world, and Torino's version exceeded the standard. The same could be said about the lasagna. The pasta was homemade ribbons of dough, layered with cheeses and bathed in a meat sauce with a touch of béchamel sauce. Decidedly rich and satisfying.

We had to take dessert home with us--tiramisu ($6) this time. It was not quite as amazing as the gelato, but the tiramisu was still quite good.

Oro Valley has a star in Torino. For those in the area, count your blessings. For the rest of us who live a bit farther away, take the drive up there. You won't be disappointed.

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