Welcome to Portofino’s Ristorante Italiano e Pizzeria. Come on in and join Darren and I for our Saturday night dinner at the best Italian restaurant this side of the pond. The city of Portofino is on the coast of Northern Italy and it is where food, wine, and “la dolce vita” are a way of living. When you dine with Portofino’s, they bring the good life to you. From their friendly staff to their authentic Italian recipes, we felt at home at Portofino’s. Number 3 on this year’s bucket list was to find the best Italian restaurant, outside of Italy of course, and the search is over with Portofino’s Ristorante Italiano e Pizzeria.
The restaurant is staffed by attentive servers who treat you like family. We were greeted at the door by Danielle, a young college student who is working to pay for her tuition. She’s extremely personable and down-to-earth, and she carried on a conversation with us as if we’d known her her entire life. We learned about her recent move to Charlotte, her family, and her studies. She admired Athena and chatted about being an aunt. All the while, she continued to do her job with ease. Personality bubbled out of her like a recently popped bottle of champagne. Then there is Cecilia who won me over by continuously bringing me fresh, moist loaves of bread. People say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, but they haven’t met me. I fell in love with Darren the first night he invited me to his house for dinner. Well, if Cecilia is single, Athena might be getting a new parent. “Oh, Cecilia, I’m down on my knees, I’m begging you please to come home.” and don’t forget the endless loaves of bread and continuously flowing soda. Finally, Martino, the assistant manager, with his South American accent and desire to please, knew every item on the menu inside and out. He offered suggestions, at our request, and made his way around the restaurant making sure everything was running smoothly. Between the greeters, floor staff, and Martino, every guest felt relaxed and enjoyed their meal to the fullest.
Now, for the food… oh their authentic Italian recipes and fresh, seasonal, local items – I ate so much I could have slept under the table. We both started with the never-ending bread that I mentioned above and a house salad. If any of you know me, you know that I’m a burger, McDonald’s specifically, kind of gal; salads are not my thing, but the salad included a creamy tomato dressing that made salad good. Mixed with basil, oil, and garlic, the flavor sprinkled all over the plate like candy. We opted for different main courses. Darren had the daily special – Mahi Mahi and Shrimp. The pesto cream sauce combined with the Mahi Mahi was a perfect blend of meat and sauce. Each noddle absorbed flavor and would definitely have stuck to the wall if thrown (they were cooked well if you’ve never heard that saying) making it an accomplished pasta dish. I went for my usual Italian favorite of Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo. I’m still wondering how they made the sauce so creamy and rich. I dread to think about how many calories it must have had; I think #9 on my bucket list went out the window this evening. We finished off the meal by sharing three desserts: Tiramisu, Chocolate Lava Cake, and Nutella Cheesecake. (Again, please disregard #9 on the list for this evening.) Darren drooled more than Athena over the Nutella Cheesecake while the Chocolate Lava Cake with ice cream on top hit the spot for me. We both love to eat, but we out did ourselves this time. I seriously considered sleeping under one of the tables. I don’t think anyone would have noticed. I could have picked one in the corner to be considerate. Athena was already asleep in her stroller. We could have had nap time together.
The Portofino atmosphere is not without its merit as well. Families filled the restaurant and chatted across tables, children joined the adults around the table and peeked over at Athena as she slept. It was like being in a huge house with extended family all around. Rather than worrying about bringing a newborn, I felt like she was part of the experience.
I was transported back to Italy this evening and I will be making the journey regularly. Grazie Portofino, arrivederci a presto!