Chefs Donato Scotti and Gianluca Guglielmi have been fast friends for 18 years.
So much so that when the Vicenza, Italy-born Guglielmi, the former executive chef and vice president at A.G. Ferarri Foods, returned to Italy to open his own restaurant in 2010, Scotti persuaded him into returning to the Bay Area recently.
Scotti’s new Berkeley restaurant, Donato & Co., which opened in October that Guglielmi now oversees. It is expected to be the first of several Bay Area concepts to come helmed by the duo.
If Donato & Co. is any indication of what’s to come, the future should be bright for Guglielmi and Scotti, who grew up in a small town near Bergamo, Italy, and now also owns Donato Enoteca in Redwood City and Cru wine bar in Redwood City.
A few weeks ago, I was invited in as a guest of the spacious restaurant, with soaring ceilings, exposed brick columns, a 20-foot-long bar, and a vintage Vespa on display. It has the feel of a beloved neighborhood joint, one you feel right at home in from the get-go.
The menu is divided into: Farm & Fields, Salt & Water, Pasta & Co., and Iron & Fire. Chef Guglielmi is trained in pastry, too, so he makes all the brunch pastries and nightly desserts. He also makes the incredible bread known as tigella. Imagine a toasted English muffin that’s slit rather than cut completely in half, with ooey-gooey Taleggio cheese oozing from its center. It’s a wonder that I didn’t just stuff myself with a dozen of them and call it a night. The little cheesy breads usually accompany a dish of Prosciutto di Parma with balsamic onion jam ($12). But you may be able to sweet talk your server into just letting you order a couple of the breads, as we did.
I am always a sucker for house-made pastas. Donato & Co. offers about half a dozen. Most can be enjoyed in either full or half portions, too.
The Cheese & Bread Capunsei ($8/$15) are like gnocchi, only made with bread rather than potatoes. It’s a traditional dumpling that frugal Italians made using day-old bread and cheese ends. The football-shaped capunsei are tossed with a sausage tomato sauce. They are as tender as stuffing with a charming rusticity to them. It feels as if an Italian grandmother made this special just for you.
The Buckwheat Ravioli ($9/$16) are striking looking with their concrete hue. They’re filled with Swiss chard, Casera cheese, potatoes and sage, and get a bit of nuttiness from the buckwheat.
Paglia E Fieno ($18) or “Straw and Hay” is a tangle of regular pasta and green spinach pasta. The strands are combined with tomatoes, parsley, garlic, a splash of Soave wine, and local Dungeness crab. It’s a light, bright dish with jammy sweetness and just enough acidity from the tomatoes.
Grilled Polo ($18) is a straightforward heap of bone-in chicken atop a puddle of smooth, creamy mashed potatoes enhanced with Grana Padano.
For dessert, you can’t go wrong with the Italian standard of “Polenta E Salame” ($8). The “polenta” is a small brick of fried custard; the “salame” are slices of chocolate hiding bits of crunchy cookie inside. It’s no wonder that Italian kids grow up hooked on this confection.
The Torta Caprese ($6) is a half sphere of chocolate cake mounded with thick ganache, and garnished with sour cherries and chocolate sauce. It’s quite chocolate-y rich, but easily shareable with two forks.
After a meal like that, I can’t wait to see what Guglielmi and Scotti dream up next.
More Berkeley Places to Try: Great China
And: Vik’s Chaat
And: La Fournee