Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Ristorante Giardino in Niagara-on-the-Lake

With the never ending crowds that descend on Niagara-on-the-Lake for the town's enormously popular Shaw Festival that takes place each year from April to October, finding a quiet place to eat amid the hustle bustle of day-tripping tourists, can be a real challenge. This is why we return to Ristorante Giardino each and every time, for a peaceful al fresco lunch overlooking the restaurants beautifully manicured lawns and fragrant gardens.

The seasonally changing Giardino menu

The real treat at this modern Italian restaurant, is to sit on the large outdoor patio, which is well set back from Queen Street, and enjoy a glass of rosé under the shade of tall trees and big umbrellas, and nibble on antipasti such as classic caprese salad with tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella, homemade focaccia and grilled panini. The menu, which changes seasonally, always features a delicious selection of fragrant thin crust pizzas, fresh homemade pasta, crisp salads as well as sautéed veal scaloppini, pork tenderloin and medallions of grilled polenta with wild mushrooms and mild Italian sausage.

Caprese alla Sorrentina

On this hot Canada Day weekend, it was the lighter dishes on the menu that seemed to most popular, such as the beautifully presented and equally delicious Caprese alla Sorrentina served as a whole beefsteak tomato, fanned open with ripe and creamy fior di latte mozzarella, garnished with basil pesto, balsamic vinegar, mixed olives nestled on a bed of arugula and topped with baby sprouts. The Calamari alla Griglia was excellent also, perfectly grilled and served over a bed of mesclun.

Calamari alla griglia

Giardino's pasta are all home made using farm fresh eggs and fine semolina flour, but can also be prepared gluten-free for those with dietary restrictions. It's difficult to choose among the six pasta dishes featured on the menu, with temptations such as Cannelloni Nuttuno, oven roasted rolled crepes filled with shrimp, baby scallops and salmon, served in a rose béchamel sauce and topped with Swiss cheese; Spaghetti alla Carbonara, the dish made famous from the province of Lazio — Spaghetti tossed with cripsy double smoked bacon, in cream eggs and pecorino cheese sauce; as well as Rigatoni alla Bolognese
in Giardino's traditional meat sauce, from an old recipe from the city of Bologna, served with a dusting of parmesan cheese and shredded fresh basil.

Rigatoni alla Bolognese

For contemporary Italian cuisine in a relaxed and quiet setting, just steps away from the towns exclusive shops, historic sites and Shaw Festival's four distinctive theatres, Ristorante Giardino is a lovely spot to escape to for a lovely meal before embarking on one of the area's many wine trails, enjoying one of this season's plays at the Shaw Festival, or simply driving, biking and exploring this glorious corner of southwestern Ontario.

Popular during the hot summer months, Giradino's outdoor terrace 
with their large cantilevered umbrellas, offer shade from the baking sun