TerraSole celebrates 10 years in downtown Ridgefield
Pietro Polini wants to make sure his customers have the best dining experience possible — from the first minute they walk into his restaurant until the last bite of dessert.
That’s the mantra that has driven TerraSole Ristorante for the past decade, and why Polini remains dedicated to overseeing every aspect of the business.
“We want to take care of our customers and ensure their experience here is memorable and worth sharing with their family — we want them to enjoy everything from ‘A’ to ‘Z,’” said Polini, who arrived in the United States in 1999 from Puglia, Italy. “The goal has always been to give them the best service from beginning to end and treat them right throughout the meal because there’s no margin for error in this business. Every detail matters. If you make a mistake at the end of the meal, that’s what they’ll remember from it. We have to get it right both in the food and in the service — and make sure they’re comfortable and happy — every step of the way.”
Polini opened TerraSole Ristorante on Big Shop Lane in Ridgefield on Oct. 17, 2009, after working his way up the restaurant industry. He managed the popular Siena Ristorante in Stamford and, prior to introducing TerraSole, he opened Malvasia restaurant in Rimini, Italy.
“Whatever I do here in the restaurant, I learned over in Italy,” said Polini, who travels back home to see his family five to six times a year.
“This is true Italian fine dining,” he added. “If my customers go to Italy, they won’t see a big difference. That’s always been the goal. It’s the same quality product, same high-end, professional service.”
TerraSole’s menu boasts a grilled seafood platter, milk-fed veal chop, imported Mediterranean wild sea bass, several homemade pasta dishes, and more than 200 wines by the bottle.
The “Cavatelli con Salsiccia alla Pietro” — homemade cavatelli with broccoli rabe and hot and sweet sausage — is Polini’s personal favorite.
“Baked in the oven with ricotta cheese — it doesn’t get much better than that,” he said.
The menu rotates four times a year depending on the season.
“That’s the custom in Italy,” Polini explained. “... We have seafood throughout the year but a lot more is available in the summer.”
Even with all the changes, customers can still expect some constants — pasta that’s made fresh in house, organic vegetables on every plate, and desserts made on-site daily.
“It’s very simple cuisine, with the best ingredients available,” he said. “When you focus on the simplicity of Italian food, that’s when you find the best dishes.”
Polini also offers gluten-free, vegetarian dishes — like cauliflower gnocchi — that have become very popular.
“People come here for that and we’re happy to cater to them,” he said.
Every detail counts in the restaurant business, and that’s why Polini checks plates coming out of the kitchen — down to even the tiny micro greens used to garnish dishes.
“The quality of the food and the quality of the service have always been what matters the most to me but presentation is important, too,” he said. “People like taking pictures of their food and we’ve developed a big following on Facebook and Instagram because of that trend. Eating out has evolved over the past 10 years and we’re happy to join in on that evolution.”
While social media has played a key role to the restaurant attracting new customers, Polini believes strongly in word of mouth being the main driver of business.
“I would rather grow over time through word of mouth than have 1,000 people come in on the first weekend and be out of business in a year,” he said. “We’ve grown by being patient. People come in, they tell a family member that person tells people they know, those people tell their neighbors and it grows from there. That’s how I prefer to build my business.”
Ten years in the restaurant business is an achievement worth celebrating, and Polini recognizes that not every owner gets to hit that benchmark.
“In this town, 10 years is a lot,” he said. “I can’t think of many that have been here that long. There’s Luc’s, Bernard’s, Bailey’s Backyard, and the Ancient Mariner. All of them have a lot of history in town. I’m glad we have that now, too. It’s a cool town to serve. It’s a family town.”
TerraSole will be markings its anniversary with a customer appreciation month in January. Every customer who dines at the restaurant during the week, will enjoy a complimentary bottle of wine from Puglia.
“Our wines here are broken down by region and we have wines from about 20 regions on the menu,” Polini said. “I want to have wines people like to have but I also want to share a wine that’s from my home region during our customer appreciation month.”
Also part of the celebration plans are three pasta-making sessions with Polini’s mom who’s flying in from Italy and spending about 40 days in Ridgefield from late November through the new year.
“This is her second year hosting pasta classes here,” Polini said. “They’re very popular and engaging.”
The past-making nights will be on Mondays, Dec. 16, Dec. 23, and Dec. 30. To book an appointment, call 203-438-5352.
“We’re closed on Mondays so they’ll have full access to the kitchen,” Polini said.
Closing on Mondays is one of the changes Polini has implemented recently.
It’s enabled him to be more available to customers on the other six days of the week, as well as spend more time with his twin daughters.
“I’m here 99 percent of the time, at least four to five hours a night,” he said. “I opened this place to serve people fine Italian food and to meet new people. I want to be here, I want to be present, and I want to engage with customers and make them happy.”
The intimate setting — TerraSole seats about 55 people in the winter and about 120 in the summer when the terrace is open — has attracted customers from all over the region. They’ve come from towns as far as Greenwich and Rye, N.Y., as well as neighboring communities like Wilton and South Salem.
“I’ve had people drive an hour just to come here,” said Polini, “that makes me proud.”
His favorite memories have been serving people on special occasions — birthdays, wedding anniversaries, and high school graduations.
“We had a woman who celebrated her 100th birthday here four years ago,” he said. “That was pretty cool.”
The outdoor patio has been popular since the first day he open for business back in October 2009.
“It was a big attraction for me when I was looking at places,” he said. “In the summer time, it’s unbelievable. It’s still one of best selling points.”
But when it comes to repeat customers at TerraSole, there’s one thing that brings them back time after time.
“It’s the one thing you can’t find anywhere else — quality, high-end Italian food,” Polini said.
“People recognize it and that’s why they keep coming back. I do something that’s totally different than your typical Italian restaurant. ...
“I’ve always loved food, ever since I was a young man working in a hotel restaurant back in Italy,” he said. “I care about every dish that leaves the kitchen and every customer we serve. This has always been my dream and now I’m here living it.”
To learn more about Polini’s story, visit TerraSole’s website at www.terrasoleridgefield.com.