If you’re already a fan of the original Enoteca La Storia in Los Gatos, you’re sure to embrace its big brother that’s more than three times the size that opened last year in San Jose’s Little Italy neighborhood.
Owners Joe Cannistraci, 52 of Sicilian heritage, and Mike Guerra, 53 of Calabrese heritage, are proud Italian-Americans who pay homage to Italian forebearers at each location. Cannistraci’s father owned a grocery in New York; while Guerra’s paternal grandfather and paternal great-grandfather both owned grocery stores in San Jose, and his maternal grandparents ran Hollister’s Villa Pace Italian restaurant.
The inside of this historic building has been fully refurbished. It is old Italy meets contemporary industrial with exposed brick and duct work, along with old black and white photos enlarged to pay respect to Italian families who helped shaped this valley. In fact, an assistant manager singled out one particular photo of the Italian family who used to run a bakery on this spot long ago. One of the babies in that photo, now all grown-up, recently came in and pointed out herself to the owners.
Old wood bread paddles from the bakery also are on display, as is a rendering of a receipt from the bakery, blown up to poster size.
The cavernous space is divided up into separate areas. There’s a sports bar, with framed soccer jerseys, and plenty of flat screen TVs — all the better to watch the San Jose Sharks, especially since the Shark Tank is so nearby.
There’s also private room, which has been booked at least once a week since the restaurant opened. A patio will open later this year, complete with another bar with garage-door-style window that will roll up for service. The main dining area houses the kitchen with a pizza oven, as well as shelves of wine bottles for sale, since this restaurant/bar also is a retail wine shop complete with its own wine clubs.
My husband and I checked out the place on a recent Saturday, paying our own tab at the end of dinner. It was bustling, with groups of girls’ night out celebrants, families, and singles planted at the bar.
About 200 wines are offered by the taste, glass or bottle. There’s also a full-liquor license, which the Los Gatos location doesn’t have. That means here you can enjoy Italian-esque cocktails, such as the Beginner’s Luck ($12), a bitter orange-forward blend of Amaro Montenegro, Prosecco, and Agnostura bitters, served straight-up in a martini glass with a garnish of rosemary sprigs and orange twist. It’s not only beautiful, but a perfect palate opener.
The food is simple and straightforward. The tonno with crostini ($13) is a mix of Sicilian tuna, capers, olives, pepperoncini and parsley that you can pile on crisp, thin bread rounds. It’s like a more virtuous take on tuna salad.
The Aglio e Olio ($14) may be just fresh spaghetti with garlic-olive oil, bread crumbs, chili flakes and Pecorino Romano, but it was the star of the night. The toothsome al dente noodles were profoundly rich in garlic flavor yet not sharp or astringent in the least. It’s comfort food — Italian-style.
There are two types of pizzas — thicker Sicilian pan-style ($30), which is large enough to feed eight people or 10-inch New York-style pies. We opted for the latter, trying the Classico ($18) topped with sausage, peppers and onions. The topping was flavorful; I mean, you can’t go wrong with that trifecta of ingredients. The crust is crisp and uniform. If you like your crust blistered with smokiness and strewn with air bubbles that offer wonderful hills and valleys of crisp and chewy textures, this is not that crust. It also has a more mild flavor, more breadstick-like than the developed tang from slowly fermented dough.
The dough actually works better in the Prosciutto Calzone ($16), since you want more sturdiness there so you can pick it up with your fingers easily. This is a big calzone, stuffed with both shredded mozzarella and fresh mozzarella, as well as whipped ricotta and fresh romano. Thin slices of prosciutto are enveloped in all of that creamy cheesiness.
For dessert, the Sfogliatelle ($7) is flown in from a New Jersey bakery. It takes about 15 minutes to get it after ordering because it’s warmed in the oven to ensure maximum crispness. It’s a little like a cross between a croissant and phyllo — thin, buttery, crisp layers enfolding a citrus-scented ricotta inside. It would be dynamite for breakfast, too, with a cup of strong coffee.
In the mood for an uncomplicated spot to hang with friends over vino and victuals? This is the place for you.