Tonino’s Italian restaurant in Murrieta serves from the heart

A plentiful, international wine list is available at Tonino.
A plentiful, international wine list is available at Tonino.

If you enjoy fine dining, in a casual friendly atmosphere, then Tonino Restaurant and Wine Bar is the place for you. With owner Tony Saad, hailing from Egypt, and his wife Marie, from Southern Italy, their tastes mesh into a fusion of delightful Mediterranean surprises in Tonino’s diverse menu.

The restaurant is tucked away in Murrieta, easy access from the 15, and worth the slight drive from Temecula. It offers a large open patio for outdoor wine tasting on Sundays, and cozy interior for family style lunch or dinner. The décor is classy, music inviting and soft enough for lingering conversation. Most of all, the enticing aromas wafting from the kitchen will have you pouring over the menu.

When you come, make sure you meet Tony and Marie. Married for 15 years, with three sons, they are busy doing what they love—caring for others with food and friendship and enjoying their new home of Murrieta. Chances are, Tony will open the door for you.

“A good relationship comes from the heart,” Tony said. “I do my best to make sure my warmth for friends and family comes out with my food.”

His accent is rich, and his welcome is genuine, but Tonino is all about the food. To start, we were served the Burrata Mozzarella, which is a Tonino must order. This fresh mozzarella shell, stuffed with a creamy ricotta cheese, is seasoned lightly with oregano and spices. The presentation is pin-wheeled with succulent tomatoes over a basil bed. The rich, mellow cheese is perfectly balanced with light balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil, delicious on its own, or with the bread. It’s a perfect way to start the meal, and light enough to enjoy with another appetizer.

With so many appetizers to choose from, our table selected the Falafel, for a Mediterranean flare. The lightly fried patties are a garden of herbaceous flavors, paired with homemade hummus and pita wedges for a crisp and tasty offering.

“We make everything from scratch,” Tony said, of the varying sauces, herbed butters that accompany the bakery fresh bread at the table. “The hummus, the marinara from tomatoes, never from cans. You’ll never see a big delivery truck here.”

At Tonino, the Burrata Mozzarella, a stuffed mozzarella with tomato and basil, is a must order.
At Tonino, the Burrata Mozzarella, a stuffed mozzarella with tomato and basil, is a must order.

All of the recipes at Tonino are inspired by Marie, and authentic to her family’s home of Bari, in Southern Italy. Chef Todd Reeves and Nikole Lyster outdid themselves with the service and delivery to the table, all under Tony and Marie’s attention.

The wine list is extensive, regional Italian wines, to local SoCal labels. Beer lovers will find familiar craft brewers, as well. We tasted a Sonoma County Martin Ray Vineyards and Winery Pinot Noir, 2013, light enough to enjoy with a multitude of flavors from Tonino’s varied menu.

Between courses, Tony and his many friends chatted, came by to discuss menu selections, and why they enjoy this restaurant so much.

“I met Marie while shopping, and saw her with sugar cane. That’s a sign of someone from another country,” Joseph Attalla, a friend of the family, stated. “From the moment I met them, I knew Tony and Marie were special.”

The Saads have lived in Murrieta for just under two years, and in that time have opened two restaurants and now employ over 12 people at Tonino. Groups and special events can be easily served, with advanced arrangement, as with the Bear Creek Ladies Club.

“We’ll create a special menu for large groups,” Tony said, ensuring that all would enjoy the same inviting and comfortable feel of the regular restaurant experience.

Next, the salad. We were served the Mista Verde Salad, fresh baby greens served with house white vinaigrette, tossed with feta cheese, tomatoes, dates, and candied walnuts. A hearty portion, large enough to share, and the dates made the salad with a sweet balance to the acidic dressing.

For our main courses, the Crab Ravioli, served in a delicate cream sauce, and the Gnocchi “Di Mamma.”

The crab ravioli offers a well-portioned plate of well-stuffed crab, along with a light and flavorful cream sauce, herbaceous, with lingering flavors of roasted red peppers.

The Gnocchi “Di Mamma” commanded attention. This was a perfect representation of everything Gnocchi should be but rarely is. A potato pasta that is a one bite delicacy, where gnocchi so often misses the mark. Here, at Tonino, the gnocchi is served in that fresh tomato marinara, along with fresh roasted cherry tomatoes and basil. The brightness of the tomatoes, along with the light potato pasta made this a treat for the senses. Priced reasonably, the gnocchi was a winner for our table.

Tonino’s owners Marie and Tony Saad.
Tonino’s owners Marie and Tony Saad. Ashley Ludwig photos

Our Secondo Entrée, the Chicken Marsala enticed much conversation. Tender, seared chicken scaloppini, served with the house’s fresh mushroom and Marsala made this dish linger in memory. The Marsala and accompanying sautéed mushrooms were buttery and delicate. Presentation, again, beautiful, with roasted veggies, once again, priced reasonably for dinner.

At last, dessert, and no less than three restaurant goers suggested we try the Tiramisu.

“This is the traditional way Tiramisu is prepared in Rome,” Tony told our table. The dessert arrived with a rich layer of custard, topped with cocoa, set atop espresso soaked ladyfinger cakes. “The middle is the best part,” he winked. And he was right. Rich, creamy, the cocoa balancing the coffee flavors, and once again, a must-order dessert at Tonino.

Finally, another signature item at Tonino, the Fragole Con Panna. This Italian styled strawberries and whipped cream in alight, sweet syrup is the perfect end to a lengthy meal. Fresh, sweet, and succulent, it will send you off right.

When asked about the opportunities available for business owners in America, Tony gestured, wide.

“I thank God for the opportunity to raise my children in America, and to make a business here,” Tony said. “We love Murrieta.”

Tonino is located at 24530 Village Walk Place, Murrieta. Call ahead on weekends at (951) 600-0303.

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