Nonni’s Ristorante Italiano

Nonni's is all about Italian home cooking in downtown Santa Rosa

tiramisu.jpgIf there’s any question about the Darwinian nature of restaurant ownership, look to the brutal natural selection of 420 Mendocino Avenue. In three years, five restaurants have occupied the space. Four have gone the way of the dinosaur and dodo — to no one’s great surprise — quickly facing extinction after problems with staff, management and/or the kitchen.  Which makes it all the more surprising that anyone would want to take over the space in these already troubled economic times.
Never question the power of a nonni to turn things around.
Borrowing the familiar term for “grandmother” in Italian*, Nonni’s Ristorante Italiano is welcoming gun shy diners from the neighborhood to the table with comforting Italian classics — a fall-off-the-bone Osso Bucco (veal shanks), veal piccata, Bolognase lasagna, and risotto. All homemade, long-simmered and served up with the care and love of an Italian grandmother — or at least a couple of Italian cousins.
Local businesswoman Karine Pollastrini deftly handles the front of the house while her Italian-born cousin Marilena Forte has commandeered the kitchen with her well-tested family recipes. Not that there isn’t some serious experimentation still going on to get things just right — like the addition of a little blue cheese to the polenta “just for a little extra flavor” and days of trying to get the Osso Bucco just right. But clearly there’s a solid foundation.
nonni2.jpgThe vibe of the space, though still oddly long and narrow, gets a personal touch with family photos, fresh flowers (Karine owns a floral shop) and new wall decor. Sinatra plays the background track to your meal, though Karine says that her uncle comes in an plays accordion on the weekend. Upstairs has been revamped to feel less like an outland and more like a cozy private retreat.
Best bets: BiteClub’s continues to daydream about the pillowy homemade gorgonzola gnocchi ($13.95) for days. Lightly fried Calamari Friiti ($8.95) beg for a side of Uncle Tony’s famous tartar sauce; carpaccio ($9.95) is brilliantly done and the refreshing Insalata Cesare ($7.95) is plenty for two to share.
During lunch, Nonni’s switches out meatier fare for panini sandwiches, though all the pastas remain on the menu. Don’t miss the Mostaccioli con suga di Maile, slow cooked braised pork with sweet, tangy tomato sauce and, of course, the Osso Bucco (which isn’t always on the menu), a massive veal shank bathed in a red wine sauce over polenta. At the risk of sounding like a food geek, the kitchen’s brunoise on the veggies (a precise chop) speaks volumes to the type of investment being put into the dishes. Not to mention the warm, fresh focaccia.
Though you’ll be tempted not to, pace yourself. Portions are enormous, but missing dessert is not an option. The menu changes up daily, though BiteClub hopes that tiramisu will become a standard — made fresh with mascarpone, spongy cake, espresso and Madera. Also great was Sunday night’s caramel bread pudding. The wine list is balanced between good, large-production local wines and Italian bottles, with a nice by-the-glass list.
Whether Nonni’s can ultimately evolve into a permanent fixture in the downtown dining scene is to be seen. Meanwhile, you’ll find BiteClub pondering the question over a plate of gnocchi.
Nonni’s Ristorante Italiano, 420 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa, 707.527.0222.
*There’s some debate on whether it’s true Italian. Some say Nonni means grandparents, and nonna, grandmother. Let yourself stop being too literal and embrace, in this case, that it’s a loving term for grandmother.

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32 thoughts on “Nonni’s Ristorante Italiano

  1. Hmm…I thought bite club gave them a great review and said previous restaurants owners at the location could not do the job. Please educate me why Nonni closed again.

  2. Finally got around to trying Nonni’s for lunch, and cant wait to go for dinner. Carpaccio was great, Seafood Risotto, great, Spaghetti a la Carbonara, great. But the best part was the owner coming by and asking about our meal. Somewhere in the conversation she mentioned she had just experimented with a Pumpkin Creme Brulee that was cooling. She said it would be about ten minutes and I said Ok I’ll wait. It was definitely worth it. I love it when an owner takes the time to talk to you, it just takes the whole experience to a new level. Cant wait to go back as there are many items I need to try. Give this place a shot, you wont be disappointed!

  3. Had dinner here tonight for our anniversary. We really enjoyed ourselves. The food was REALLY good. Husband and I had the salmon special. Very good. Portions were nice and the flavors were just right. Our daughter had the spaghetti which she said was the best she’d ever had. For dessert, the lemon cheesecake with rasberry sauce for me and the bread pudding for our daughter were both wonderful. Service was great. There was live accordion music tonight which lended nicely to the mood. Overall a wonderful dinner celebration.

  4. My family ,and I had just eaten at Nonnis ,it was fantastic as always.We have eaten at Nonnis at least ten times since they have opened. We have never had a disappointed meal. It’s very authentic,flavorful,plentiful,and the presentation is excellent. The owners are very friendly, and very accommodating.It’s one of the best Italian Restaurants in town.My friends always ask me where is a great restaurant to have great food. I always mention a few, including Nonnis.Ciao !,Bettina Malfatti P.S. Did I mention the Ambience is beautiful !!!

  5. We were looking forward to a good Italian restaurant experiencee and were very disappointed. Food was adequate but nothing special. The fried calamari was not crispy and the tartar sauce was bland. The Caesar salad had too much dressing and the meatballs were only fair. Ordered two lasagnas, twenty minutes later we were told that they ran out, and when the check came, the lasagna charges were on it anyway. The restaurant was very noisy and the service was mediocre. They forgot the birthday at our table after being notified twice and did nothing even after their neglect was brought to their attention.

  6. Went to Nonni’s for the first time last night and it was absolutely perfect! The service was wonderful and the food was AMAZING!!!! Can’t wait to go back.

  7. Recently had dinner at Nonni’s and enjoyed the food, the service was fine but the music was much too loud. We were seated downstairs and literally could not carry on a conversation. Other diners around us also commented on the noise level. We enjoy dinner music, but not at the expense of conversation. Decided the next time we go we will call ahead to see if the musical group is there that night.

  8. If you have ever said to yourself ” I’m just looking for a great plate of pasta ” come to Nonnis’ and you will not be disapointed

  9. My wife and I went to Nonni’s on 6/13 and overall were very happy with the experience. We started off sharing the Carpaccio, it was tender and almost buttery in texture altogether a wonderful dish. Next we tried the Insalata Cesare, while the dressing was good it came at the same time as the Carpaccio and it was warm. Had the lettuce been chilled it would have greatly improved the dish. For entrees, I had the Osso Bucco and my wife had the Gnocci; both were perfectly done and delicious. Complements of the house we shared the Tiramisu and were pleased with the desserts
    flavor and texture. I was also pleased with
    the wine list as there were a fair number of selections in the under $35.00 range.
    While our waiter was pleasant it appeared that the house was understaffed which was reflected in slow service. Added to the problem, we were seated upstairs and there seemed to be a large number of family and friends that commanded most of the staffs attention.
    In spite of the minor problems we encountered, we will return.

  10. I went to Nonni’s for dinner at about 9:30pm tonight (Saturday). I thought it was really excellent. The service was friendly. The focaccia bread was fresh. The spaghetti with meatballs were some of the best I’ve had. I grew up in an Italian family (grandparents emigrated from Sicily when my mom was 6), in New Jersey, and I recognize when a place gets red sauce and meatballs just right. I’m going to tell my family about it and I will be back. My husband thought his pasta (which had braised pork and tomatoes) was great as well. I really hope they stay in business because not every Italian place makes truly authentic Southern Italian food. Now, if only they would make aranchini and zeppoli….

  11. The spaghetti and meatballs and linguine vongole are both very good. My question is about the business instinct and attention to detail and general service expertise. No doubt the service is in the amateur category. I dont think it would take much to teach the staff a little bit about the basics. The question to me looks like its all about the desire and energy to not only have a few good recipes but to work on some of the peripheral lesser parts of the restaurant package. Sloppiness will eventually take you down because people find things that irritate them and stop coming. Ice tea out of the soda gun, not brewed from real tea bags? Thats really bad and is an example of a short-cut that if there are many of those becomes the kiss of death. Trust me, I know. I wish Nonni’s great success, but be smart about all things food and drink.

  12. With no expectations what so ever I was pleasantly surprised.
    Went Sat. night – there were 3 of us. Went around 6:30. The place was 1/3 full. By the time we left it was 3/4 full with several tables being turned over once.
    Calamari w/ the special tarter sauce was awesome. Light & tender we faught over the last few pieces! Had the gnocci w/ gorgonzola sauce and it was so yummy. Had left overs for Sun lunch. Split the tiramisu and seriously one of the best I’ve had. Not too sweet or tasting of alcohol. Prices were very resonable. Wine list was decent. Portions are good size.
    A nice affordable addition to Santa Rosa.

  13. BiteClubbers….
    There were some comments on a previous post that rang a little overly excited and set off the BS alarm for me and many of my readers. Things got pretty out of hand on that post — basically people sniping at one another rather than actually talking about the restaurant or anything intelligent — so i closed them just to pipe down the hysteria.
    I can tell you that the folks at Nonnis definitely have some friends in the biz and that I have no doubt those friends are probably contributing to some of the positive reviews. I’ve always said that was fine. You DO have to have a valid email address to post. And yes, I CAN delete by IP. And no, those weren’t from the same IP so I let them stand. I’ve always had the policy that the food will do the talking — as will true customers satisfied or not.
    I’ve been to Nonni’s twice personally and have talked to several folks from the PD who’ve also eaten there and we’ve all had excellent experiences. Surprisingly nice considering the last couple of failures — which I didn’t pull punches on.
    Woj, you know me better than that.

  14. I have been to Nonni’s 3 times already and I’m looking forward to many more scrumptious meals there. Each time I leave, my tummy is full and I’m very satisfied. My favorites…Calamari Stephano, pesto with prawns, the house red, and the bread pudding special(heaven). I’ve also had an amazing salmon special. My husband usually doesn’t like Italian food, but with Nonni’s he keeps asking for more! We bring our kids too; as it is very kid friendly…a real family atmosphere. Love it!!! Oh, how could I forget, we were able to meet the real Nonni too. A spunky and very proud woman, as she should be!!!

  15. seriously? i also went back and read the pre opening comments and found nothing in there that would suggest the owners wrote multiple comments. what would they gain from that???? if its good food, then its good food. obviously people will go in and try it for themselves. i happen to know the owners and they are a wonderful ITALIAN family, they are honest and hard working and for you to sit there suggest they would do that is obsurd! get out from behind your little computer, and actually try it yourself.

  16. I went back and read the pre-opening post/comments on Nonni’s and I have to say: I’m disappointed that “BiteClub” didn’t moderate any of those clearly fake (i.e. posted by the owners) comments (easy to check they came from the same computer.) And then, after people started mentioning it- comments were closed?! This is a big red flag to me and hopefully not a sign of what this food blog is turning into.

  17. My family went to Nonni’s last night after hearing about it on the radio. Overall we will give it a 7 on our scale of 10 being the best. The dining area and upstairs is very well decorated and nice. The walk to the bathrooms is through the kitchen area, kind of interesting.
    The food was good but not excellent. The calmari was gooded perfect but the tarter sauce was nothing to write home about, I better give them my italian grandma’s tarter sauce recipe. The spagetti my daughter had was in her words a 10. The veal salt. was good not my favorite, like the vegs that came with it. The lasagna was ok a little disappointing, the sauce did not taste that great, I have had better and my husband gave it a 6. The staff was so-so attentive. The owner/manager came by a couple of times and was very pleasant. The upstairs has a beautiful dining table. Will be go back… not sure.

  18. My wife and I have been to Nonni’s 3 times already…..we tried the fabulous raviolis as an appetizer…….I had the veal saltimbocca which was delicious and my wife had the linguini vongole…..some of the best anywhere….I grew up on Italian food in New York…..flavorful rich white clam sauce with tons of clams and lots of small clams as well……then we’ve been back twice after that and both had it again……..then tonite we did take out…..3 huge plates of spaghetti and meatballs….we brought some to our friend to try…..perfectly cooked pasta and what a sauce! The meatballs were just right too……..Try their garlic bread in addition to the foccaccia……covered in garlic and just great…..At Nonni’s it’s all about good honest authentic Italian food and healthy portions…….and I say again quality…..nothing canned here…..all freshly prepared the Italian way……by Italians….who else??!! Next time I’ll try the lasagne…….

  19. Your headline is misleading. How will we know if the curse is broken until the restaurant’s been there for a few years?

  20. I have eaten here twice now…my husband loves Italian food. First I had Linguini with clams. The best I have ever had! It was truly delicious. My husband had the Lasagna and was very pleased. On our second trip I had a piece of Salmon grilled perfectly. My husband had Chicken Parmesean both trips were excellent. For an appetizer we were offered a Calamari that was not on the menu. We were told it was a family recipe. It too was delicious. We hope Nonni’s is a success at this location. Oh…kid friendly too! Staff was accomodating as we had our small son with us.

  21. Went the other night – I was hopeful. We started with foccacia which was the stalest and driest I have ever had. It was inedible. Caesar salad was a bit soggy and not what I was hoping to have. Lasagna was pretty yummy and my guest had a chicken dish with pasta and veg. Not bad. I just don’t think I will make another trip here when there are so many other great restaurants to eat at. I am sad though, I was hoping to love it.

  22. I loved Vivere, I wish they had held out a bit longer. I do hope the curse is finally broken with this place.

  23. Ooooh! You got me all excited about this place! I had hoped Vivere would have pulled it together- but this may be a great Italian option, too. And I, too had a “Nonni” grandmother and a “Nonna” great-grandmother.

  24. I went there for lunch and I wasn’t that impressed. I had the sausage panini and it really didn’t do much for me; I’ve had much better. The side salad had sliced apples which was a pleasant surprise, but they tasted like soap! Maybe they were more tart then I expected but I just couldn’t eat them. For a $10 lunch, I wouldn’t go back.

  25. Thanks for the update. No shortage of the need for Italian comfort food these days. As to the usage of the term “nonni”, indeed, the proper Italian word for grandparents is nonni; that is, a nonno and a nonna. Most kids growing up, such as myself, probably had a hard time pronouncing the “a” and usually leave it at nonni. It certainly is a term of endearment among most Italian families.

  26. Um, I was referring to me — someone who is not a chef — using the term. That is nerdy, and I admit it. But I honestly spent like 5 minutes admiring it. So I figured I’d write about it.
    Step away from the salamander, sweetie. I’ve got nothing but respect for ya.

  27. Referring to one’s use of a professional term, “brunoise” as being a “geek” rubs this trained professional the wrong way. Like writing a food blog isn’t the ultimate in food geekiness already.
    Show a little respect for those who do the hard work.

  28. Hey BiteClubbers….if anyone had reason to feel apprehensive about this place, it was me. I went in with absolutely zero expectations — which may have been why initially I was so impressed. I returned a few nights later with McNibs just to see if I was on base, and he concurred. As did a number of Press Democrat employees who’ve been in. Look forward to hearing what you think.

  29. We always called my great grandmother “Nonni” and she was as Italian as it gets…Oh well…Anyway, I agree with Daddy’s post about being a bit apprehensive but I’ll give it a shot!

  30. It’s probably too soon to tell if that curse has actually been broken, but thanks for the review. I was a little apprehensive after all those pre-opening “comments” popped up on that previous thread. And to be honest, those glowing reports/predictions from before the doors even opened still rub me wrong. I’d bet the nice folks at Nonni’s were behind them, but I’ll give them a shot.

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