Pizzas heated over a wood fire and fresh selections of meat and seafood entertain the taste buds of visitors seeking a Tuscan dining experience at Grissini Trattoria. The restaurant's nimble-handed kitchen collaborators top caesar salad with calamari ($12), and smother blank crusts in house-smoked chicken and barbecue sauce on the smoked chicken pizza to proteinize a power lunch ($14). Dinner delicacies, meanwhile, can be preceded by an antipasto of butternut squash ravioli ($9.50), or beef carpaccio, sliced paper thin and served with aged parmesan and a toasted baguette ($9.50). The accommodating staff will cheerfully explain the differences between penne and ziti and demonstrate which noodle can be interlocked into better action figures while you cleanse your physical and metaphorical palate with shrimp linguine ($17) or veal saltimbocca ($24).
The appetizer list at Bravo Bistro touts a world of choices, almost literally. Fresh ahi tuna with crunchy wontons sits just beneath salmon carpaccio, giving way to shrimp and scallop ceviche and pomme frites drizzled in truffle oil. The international influence stems from owner and chef Habib El Jacifi, who learned to execute French, Spanish, and Mediterranean recipes growing up in Casablanca, Morocco. Contra Costa Times reviewer Ann Tatko-Peterson had admired Habib’s work at his first restaurant, Fiore, and a visit to Bravo inspired her to gush that the bistro is "proof that experience can lead to perfection.” According to Ann, diners might be loath to efface artfully presented dishes such as gamberi with tiger shrimp and crab, but in doing so will taste a creamy parmesan she likened to the best sauces from Italy. The menu’s entrees are mostly Italian, but patrons will notice subtly multicultural accents such as the apple chutney that sweetens the pork chops or the saffron sauce and caramelized onions that crown the oven-roasted chicken. Sunday brunch furthers the gastronomic globetrotting as diners trek through a prix fixe menu that has featured croissants, chicken penne pesto, quiche, and braised beef stew.
From the outside, Zio Fraedo's looks like a stately Italian villa. Inside, the atmosphere is just as elegant, but instead of Dean Martin's voice, you might hear the groovy sounds of live Motown music reverberating from the walls. The dynamic live entertainment, which might include cabaret shows, dancing, and live music, is a big draw. The menu is too, featuring Italian entrees from prawns risotto to veal parmesan, as well as an extensive wine list that plays "That's Amore" when you open it. There's also ample parking, allowing people to easily stop in for the continental and Italian dishes and local or national performers under the direction of Top Shelf Entertainment.
Toscana Ristorante may have opened only in 2006, but chef Samuel Figueroa's culinary chops are of a much thicker cut. Over the course of a 17-year career, which includes a degree from the School of Italian Food Art in Rome, he's honed a large repertoire of traditional Italian fare. In Toscana's kitchen, he and his staff flavor fillets of salmon and veal with accents such as blackberry, lemon butter, and fresh sage. Fillings such as pumpkin, shrimp, and shiitake mushroom stuff raviolis, and marinara and alfredo sauces slather pastas.
Servers transport these and other plates past enormous arched windows in the dining room, which has a floor crisscrossed with elegant arcs of natural light. Racks and shelves behind the blond-wood bar supply white-clothed tables with bottles of wine and spirits. Alternatively, on the verdant outdoor patio, overhanging foliage provides shade for customers and free dessert for their docile pet giraffes.
Sapore Ristorante's chef and owner, Miguel Zaragoza, instills his recipes with a passion for Italian fare that he has fostered since childhood. He and his practiced team expertly fashion Old-World entrees such as chicken marsala and seafood pastas, and desserts such as homemade tiramisu woo sweet teeth more effectively than love notes scrawled on tablecloths in buttercream frosting.
Though using all-natural and locally grown ingredients is becoming popular in today’s restaurants, Straw Hat Pizza has been dedicated to these forward-thinking practices since serving its first pie on July 10, 1959. For more than 50 years, Straw Hat Pizza has followed some very down-to-earth guidelines: tomatoes are handpicked and hand-sorted from its own fields, cheeses are free from fillers, and all produce originates from within 150 miles of the store. Of course, this is pizza, so the local focus is accented by Old-World practices. For example, the Idaho wheat is grown in volcanic soil at least 4,500 feet above sea level, according to Italian pizza and pasta tradition.
Straw Hat’s pizzas, like the best blind dates, arrive dressed in a diverse selection of veggie and meat toppings⎯such as lemon-pepper chicken, chorizo, and bell peppers⎯but pies aren’t its only signature item. In the 1970s, Straw hat introduced the Hot Hat, a stromboli-style sandwich stuffed with melted cheese and ham, meatballs, or pepperoni. Additionally, the cooks whip up an eclectic choice of sides, including onion-battered green beans and garlic-parmesan bread sticks.