Restaurant Review: Ristorante Renato
When it comes to Italian food in Fredericksburg, you have options beyond Castiglia's.
If you or I were to stumble upon a Fredericksburg resident and recount to them our recent experience with an Italian restaurant on William Street, more than likely they'll think we’re describing Castiglia's. And for good reason. That restaurant's warm family atmosphere, good fare, and affordable prices have built it a lofty reputation and a huge base of frequent customers. In fact, it is because of that popularity (and the resulting lengthy wait-times), my girlfriend and I found ourselves looking for another fine establishment to spend our hard-earned money late one Friday night.
We didn't have to look far. For a few months now, I had spied Ristorante Renato while downtown. I was intrigued by what I didn't see. No idyllic window-front, no neon signs advertising carryout deals, and very little external indication of just what kind of restaurant it was. So last Friday, we decided to find out.
Crossing the threshold was an experience. We were promptly ushered and seated in an upscale, candle-lit booth, dressed with fine linens and wares.
While mulling over the menu, we were served freshly-baked bread. Now bread is bread, but I really savored the taste. It was warm, soft, and flavorful. The menu layout was straightforward and humble, two qualities that tell me an eatery wants to let its food do the talking. Options are listed in Italian, but have English descriptions below them. I found there to be a good selection of pasta, red meat, chicken, and seafood with both northern Italy and southern Italy well-represented. Every entrée comes with a garden salad, which I found to be simple but tasty.
For dinner, I ordered the agnolotti, a variant and close relative of the ravioli. Having watched a quite a few episodes of “Gordon Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares”, I was looking for two main things: did the food taste freshly-made (as opposed to frozen), and was the sauce overly salty or creamy.
The agnolotti was tender; the dough was definitely fresh (not flash-frozen) and the spinach filling was delightful. The sauce, a traditional cream cheese base, was decadently creamy, but not overly salty or greasy. Garnish was tasteful and augmented the presentation of the dish.
My date ordered the tortellini alla pana. As with the agnolotti, the dough was very tasty, but the filling reminded me a bit too much of “Chicken of the Sea.”
Although service was exemplary and the dining atmosphere top-notch, I had one more gripe. Renato’s “Café Diablo”, (proudly displayed in color on the restaurant’s website) is a flaming orange flambé prepared tableside over six liquors. I’m sure it has delightful taste, but the flambéing process itself gave off a pungent odor of metal mixed with burning flesh (not that I know what that smells like). Although we were a good 50 feet away, it definitely detracted from the dining experience.
The wine list is very well-rounded with a robust variety of Zindfandels, Cabernets, Merlots, Pinot Noirs, Pinot Grigio’s, and Chardonnays. In other words, unless you attend tastings on a regular basis, you won’t have an issue with Renato’s offerings.
Based on what I saw and tasted, I believe Ristorante Renato deserves more frequent consideration when weighing where to spend your Italian-food dollar in Fredericksburg. It is certainly a vastly different beast from Castiglia’s, but one well worth trying out.