If you ever find yourself doubting humanity, a visit to Ravioli's Italian Market Place may be your remedy. The specialty at this Concord fast casual Italian restaurant is genuine hospitality, served warmly. A meal and a kind greeting from ever-present owners Carol Rackel and Ernie Campora may be more healing than years of therapy.
The mother-and-son duo exude a generous, loving spirit as they introduce themselves to every table. They sincerely want to know if you like their food. On my visit, when something went slightly amiss -- a server dropped a bit of spaghetti on my nothing-special purse -- the entire staff checked in on me ... twice. On another very busy night, our party of 10 was nearly overwhelmed by their wait staff's well-meaning attention. And all this from an inexpensive restaurant where diners order at the counter.
Ravioli's moved in January from a bitty strip mall location to its new digs in the heart of downtown Concord's Todos Santos Plaza. The interior space is casual and clean with lots of natural light. Enlarged black-and-white family photos, a small market and a pasta maker in the front window anchor the restaurant to its Italian heritage.
The outdoor patio is inviting, with red market umbrellas and potted plants, including some with red geraniums and trailing bacopa that lend a distinctly European flair. It's an especially idyllic location for families, as parents can buy themselves a few minutes of quiet by filling their kids' fists with pennies and pointing them toward the courtyard fountain.
Ravioli's recipes stem from the family's roots in Calabria, Genoa and Piedmont, thus combining the culinary traditions of Northern and Southern Italy. Both Rackel and Campora learned their craft by doing, primarily at Trebino's in Stockton, the family's original restaurant and catering business.
Part of the reason for Campora's and Rackel's omnipresence at Ravioli's is that everything-- as in everything -- from the delicious complimentary focaccia to the ravioli to the cannoli is made in-house. The only exceptions are the olive oil and the gelato. It's an impressive undertaking that deserves a bigger role in Ravioli's marketing materials.
The menu is stuffed with old-world Italian favorites, dishes that have become comfort food for many. Portions are hearty and presented without a lot of frills. A prime example is Ernie's Favorite ($15.99), a flavorful plate of fettuccine and mildly spicy sausage covered in a Bolognese sauce and topped with a fist-sized meatball. Typically, leftovers slowly die in my refrigerator, but I ate this savory pasta sampler for two meals in a row.
Carnivores should steer toward the meatball sandwich ($8.99), a messy mix of tender, saucy meatballs, grated mozzarella and focaccia. Another popular dish is the creamy polenta with marinara or Bolognese sauce ($13.99, $4.99 as a side dish), which Ravioli's can hardly keep in stock. This version packs in extra flavor with mozzarella and Monterey Jack cheeses.
My husband, who made a few thousand Chicago-style pizzas in his teen and college days, found the pizza ($11.95-$30.95, depending on size and toppings) among the best in the Bay Area. Ravioli's uses mozzarella, Monterey Jack and Parmesan to cover just the right amount of marinara sauce. The crust is crispy and the kitchen even takes the time to crimp the cornicione or "end crust." I'd be reluctant to order the petrale sole ($17.99) again, a special on my first visit. Although nicely served over angel hair pasta, this poor fish suffocated under boatloads of Parmesan and capers. Also, the mushroom ravioli tasted bland and underseasoned.
Desserts involve all the usual Italian suspects, including biscotti ($2.25), tiramisu ($5.99) and cannoli ($4.25). This is another place that Rackel and Campora could take a short cut, but have opted not to. All the desserts I sampled were fine, though the tiramisu lacked that espresso punch I was expecting.
First-timers should know that the hybrid system of ordering is a bit confusing. Guests are seated with menus, but then order at the counter and serve themselves drinks. Food is then delivered by servers. After two visits, I'm still a bit unclear on some of those pesky, but necessary, little details about the role of the server. Does she get the silverware or do I? Who gets the to-go box?
The benefit of this system is flexibility. At the counter are express foods ($9.99), such as Italian pork pot roast or spaghetti with Italian sausage, that are ready to go. Other entrees require a few minutes. Diners can also customize their meal with a variety of pasta types, ravioli fillings, and sauces.
Ravioli's makes it easy to put dinner on the table at a fair price. They offer frozen products, take out, or delivery. If I lived in its delivery area, Ravioli's would be my answer to that "it's Friday night and I'm too lazy to cook" malaise.
Plans for expansion are being bantered about. That's good news. The "fast casual" market would be well served by the growth of Ravioli's.
Reach Chrissa Ventrelle at firstname.lastname@example.org.
* * ½
FOOD: * * ½
AMBIENCE: * * ½
SERVICE: * * *
WHERE: 2151 Salvio St., Suite I, Concord
CONTACT: 925-689-3819, www.raviolismarket.com
HOURS: 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 10 p.m.-9:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Sundays
VEGETARIAN: Several options, including pizzas, a vegetable calzone and vegetarian pasta dish
BEVERAGES: Beer, wine
NOISE LEVEL: Medium
PARKING: Street parking and nearby garage
KIDS: No separate children's menu, but kids will find plenty to love.
PLUSES: Incredible hospitality and warmth from owners.
MINUSES: Least favorite dish was petrale sole, a menu special.
DATE OPENED: January
We don't let restaurants know that we are coming in to do a review, and we strive to remain anonymous. If we feel we have been recognized or are given special treatment, we will tell you. We pay for our meal, just as you would.
Restaurants are rated on a scale of one to four, with four representing a truly extraordinary experience for that type of restaurant.
$ Most entrees under $10
$$ Most entrees under $20
$$$ Most entrees under $30
$$$$ Most entrees under $40