Buon Appettito in Twain Harte
By Antoinette May Herndon
Writing a newspaper column is a bit like tucking a note inside a bottle and casting it into the sea. Will anyone read the message? The thought that somebody might actually respond to an article seems really far out.
Yet, surprisingly, that happens often to me. Not long ago I did a round-up column featuring Italian restaurants. The reaction was unexpected. I like to eat Italian but was astonished by how many others share my enthusiasm. Everybody, it seems, has a special favourite; but it goes beyond that. Many readers are highly proprietary about their choices; and, for that reason, critical of my own.
“Do you REALLY like Gianinni’s best?” someone asked recently. His voice had a highly sceptical ring to it.
Well, of course, I really like Giannini’s! It has been favourite for the past nine years. Why would I write so glowingly if I didn’t mean it? My husband, Charles, and I are paying guests at every table. We go back often to our favourites and keep up with the staff comings and goings that can make or break a place.
Three counties are a lot to keep track of, so I am always grateful when readers recount their pains and pleasures. I want to hear about new places and especially appreciate it when fellow diners share their opinions and experiences.
It was in just that way that I discovered Villa D’oro—my new best Italian restaurant. After the aforementioned Italian round-up was published, I received
a flurry of emails informing me of Twain Hart’s treasured bistro.
The owners, Valerie and Brian Offi, have a mission statement. From their beginning the goal has been to provide an eating place where both locals and tourists could feel comfortable while seated side by side wearing anything from jeans to tuxes.
Mission accomplished. If a restaurant can be both casual and chic, Villa D’oro fills the bill. Add to this romantic. Imagine a trattoria in Italy or Greece. Then transport it to a Tuolomne pine forest.
On a recent first time visit Charles and I felt, almost from the start, that we were coming home to old friends. Weather permitted outdoor dining which we loved—mountain vistas, fragrant pines, but later as we moved inside we were delighted by the warm, cozy interior and lively, inviting bar. Clearly this is a place where both localites and visitors love to gather.
The menu at Villa D’oro emphasizes Mediterranean style cooking and features fresh seafood, organically produced vegetables, choice meats and quality wines. The piazza (or patio) has a wood-fired pizza oven from Italy that sends the aroma of almond wood wafting throughout the tiny town of Twain Harte.
I don’t think I’ve ever tasted better garlic soup than the Villa’s signature dish. It’s really strong, but I’m from Transylvania and appreciate that kind of protection. Charles was equally delighted with his tiger shrimp in horseradish cocktail sauce. ($9 and $10 respectively.)
a luscious Caesar salad with hearts of romaine and anchovies—yes, I wrote anchovies. What a pleasant surprise! How many Caesars include them any more? This crisp and delicious salad was priced at $11.
Charles’s main course was seafood ravioli with alfredo sauce ($21). You better believe they know how to do ravioli at the Villa.
I always consider the manner in which an Italian restaurant cooks and presents veal piccata to be a true test of how authentic they are. Villa D’oro definitely passed the test. The lemon caper butter sauce was outstanding. ($21).
It was hard to find room for dessert, but somehow we managed. Our choice was crème brulee ($9). There is a time to throw caution, calories and cash to the winds. That evening was one of them.
Now, dear readers, please promise to keep those emails flowing. This enquiring reporter really wants to know what’s cooking. She’s depending on you.
Grazie, la vita e bella!
VITALS: Villa D’oro Ristorante Italiano, 23036 Joaquin Gully Rd., Twain Harte. Phone: 586-2182. firstname.lastname@example.org. Open seven days a week. Open Monday-Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.; Sunday from 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Full bar. Credit cards accepted.
Waitress Julia Deschler is an asset to Villa D’oro in Twain Harte.
Twain Harte’s Villa D’Oro has a warm, inviting bar.
Villa D’Oro’s alpine setting adds to its charm.