I can honestly say that the first time I ate at IL Ritorno changed the way I viewed Italian food forever. I had always thought of heavy cream sauces and meatballs – until that night.

That’s one thing everyone should know right off the bat: this place isn’t serving your Italian-American grandma’s sauce (though I’m sure it’s amazing). This is modern Italian cooking, crafted with one chef’s unique spin on a traditional cuisine.

Owner and Executive Chef David Benstock traveled all over the country, training under the likes of Wolfgang Puck, Gabriel Kreuther and more, before opening his own restaurant in downtown St. Pete. IL Ritorno, which translates to “The Return” in Italian, marked the homecoming to his native city. He wanted to bring all he had learned back home and consequently opened the doors to his restaurant in December 2013.

Chef David and his team are at the restaurant every morning (usually before the sun comes up) hand-making the pasta dough that becomes the pasta in the dishes he’s known for, like Short Rib Mezzaluna, Mushroom Tagliatelle, and Pork Campanelle. If you want something other than pasta, don’t fret. There are more options that are just as good. I recommend the Steamed American Red Snapper or Chef’s Cast Iron Steak. And for dessert, Olive Lemon Oil Cake all the way.

The folks at IL Ritorno are dedicated to a true dining experience, and they don’t take it lightly. If you’re looking to celebrate, wine and dine someone, or just to treat yourself, I highly recommend reserving a seat at the Chef’s Bar. Adjacent to the bustling open kitchen, guests who perch here have a front row seat to all of the action while being treated to 8-10 curated courses that are not available on the dining menu. If you’re here, you’re in it for the long haul and the seat is yours all night. I recommend taking it a step further and including wine pairings. Ask the Sommelier, Ronald Randall, for his recommendations. I promise he won’t’ steer you wrong. To purchase your seat at Chef’s Bar, email Owner Erica Benstock at erica@ilritornodowntown.com.

If I haven’t convinced you yet, just wait until you hear about their happy hour specials:

● Monday: Industry Night
You and a guest receive 50% off food with proof of current hospitality employment (hotel + restaurant biz)
● Tuesday: Pasta Party
50% off pasta dishes from 5 – 7p
● Wednesday: Sipping Specials
50% off cocktails and glasses of wine from 5 – 7p
● Thursday: Oyster Night
$1.50 oysters from 5 – 7p
● Friday: Fri-Yay Night
Two glasses of wine (or cocktails), an appetizer to share, and two pasta dishes for $65, from 5 – 7p

I have to admit, I’ve been that “early bird” popping in at 5 p.m. on the dot to make sure I can take advantage of the 50% off pasta dishes deal on Tuesdays.

To make a reservation, you can call the restaurant at 727.897.5900, or book online at OpenTable. Follow IL Ritorno on Facebook and Instagram @ilritornodowntown to get the latest on special events, tasting dinners, limited-time dishes, and more.

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