It started off upon discovering that they had kid’s menus after all. Ritzy joints generally don’t, and there’s merit in not having to navigate through squash-based raviolis when trying to decide what to order the little urchins. As a family-owned business, the Aruffo’s know family concerns. The lack of pretension continues with the décor; oak ceiling fans twirl slowly under subdued (but in no way dark) lighting. Wine racks and framed posters of Italian apéritifs dot the walls and provide a chill background for enjoying a meal.
And that’s what it amounts to—an enjoyable meal at Aruffo’s. This is basic Italian done right from the appetizers on up to the main courses. And as with traditional Italian, at least some of the entrée will come home due to the quantity of the courses that precede it. It starts with the garlic bread; a heaving loaf of dough, slathered in a rich tomato sauce that comes on a bit strong—it’s far better to slush some of the saucy lake off and dip the bread into the pesto and virgin olive oil dipping sauce instead. These items come with the garlic bread, and what epiphanies they are. Quickly to follow is the house soup of the day—a creamy salmon bisque, a peppery ordeal that is truly delicious, with just the right texture.
Like true gluttons we also ordered the antipasti, which is something of a platonic ideal of antipasto salad and a far cry from the usual salami drenched in vinaigrette that’s so common in many Italian restaurants. No, this was toasted bread surrounded by red and green bell peppers, zucchini, and lusciously sweet sun-dried tomatoes, all masterly swathed in a light olive oil and vinegar. It arrives the way one might expect it would in Florence or Milan, which is to say, authentic. Circling the vegetables are medallion-shaped mozzarella wedges, which mesh with the rest of the plate expertly. Lording over the dish like Zeus sits several elephantine garlic cloves, oven-baked and ready for spreading. These are escorted by a host of pine nuts like so many laurels on a Roman battlefield. Simple cooking using fresh ingredients shouldn’t feel novel or unique yet . . . it’s always a pleasant surprise it does.
The attention to freshness and quality extends to the rest of the meal. Our Portafino salad is another awesome creation, much like the antipasto. It’s all veggies—broccoli, zucchini, and leafy things—with the very same mozzarella, pine nuts, and kalamata olives, and a tasty raspberry vinaigrette dressing. Not to nitpick, but if there’s a small disappointment to be had it’s the salmon that sits atop; it’s flaky and juicy but just a tad bland. On whole, though, we left satisfied, and with a Parma ham sandwich to go.
A sign of a transformed opinion, my son was no longer feeling intimidated by stuffiness, just stuffed.
Aruffo’s Italian Cuisine, 126 Yale Ave., Claremont, (909) 624-9624; AE, MC, V