Dining Outside at Eataly’s Terra
So when farmer Fred Hempel invited me to join him there for dinner last week, I jumped at the chance. Being one of Eataly’s local purveyors obviously has its perks. Indeed, most of the tomatoes and squash blossoms that Hempel grows at his Green Bee Farm in Sunol have been allocated to Eataly’s San Jose-Santa Clara location. You’ll find his farm’s name listed on Terra’s menu, and its tomatoes and squash blossoms not only spotlighted in dishes, but sold fresh in the produce section of Eataly’s market, as well.
That includes his newest creation, the Benevento tomato. A plant geneticist and breeder, Hempel has created new varieties of tomatoes for more than two decades. This gorgeous red beefsteak streaked with green and yellow was bred with greater disease resistance and a longer shelf life. With a deep, full, lingering flavor of sweetness and umami, it’s the tomato that will make your BLT shine.
If like me, you’re limiting yourself to primarily dining outdoors these days, then Terra is right up your alley.
Located on the third floor of Eataly, it sports a terrace with heaters, umbrellas and festive string lights. Because the restaurant has floor-to-ceiling glass doors that slide open completely, even the indoor dining room is practically outdoors, too.
There is definitely an air of theatrics to the restaurant. But then, so, too, is there with Eataly, itself. And honestly, that’s part of the draw of a place like this.
At the front of the restaurant is a large picture window that afford you an up-close view of the grills. Just don’t get too close, as a sign advises you not to touch the glass, because the fire is that close. As our server noted, almost everything served at Terra is touched by the grill.
There are plenty of wines, beers, and cocktails to choose from. There’s even an option to design your own gin & tonic, which I enthusiastically chose. The cocktail price is dependent upon which gin you choose from seven available. I went with the Malfy Gin Limone from Italy ($16), then chose Fever Tree Elderflower for the tonic. For my herb garnish, I opted for fresh thyme, and for my fruit garnish, I picked a dried lemon. It all made for a very smooth G&T that was predominantly floral and citrusy.
I can never resist lardo, so we had to order the pane otto ($9), a stack of grilled house-made sourdough accompanied by crocks of whipped lardo and soft Delitia Buffalo milk butter that’s higher in fat than that from cows. Spread on either or some of each, and sprinkle on sea salt from the pile on the board, and it is carb heaven. The cured porky fat just melts, becoming one with the bread. Honestly, I could have made a meal out of this alone.
However, we gamely plunged ahead to the rest of the menu, hitting on grilled Aburzzo-style lamb skewers (6 for $12 or 12 for $22). This isn’t ground lamb, but bite-sized pieces threaded tightly on skewers and rendered smoky, juicy, and irresistible. The skewers come draped over more of that grilled bread, which you should definitely devour, as it will have soaked up all that delicious lamb juice.
Because farmer Fred was in the house, the kitchen sent out two dishes starring his products. First up, a refreshing summer gazpacho made from his Benevento tomatoes that came garnished with strands of fennel and cucumber for added texture and a subtle anise note.
Then, it was his squash blossoms, battered and fried, and holding a rich filling of ricotta mixed with a more nutty, salty, meaty cheese, most likely Grana Padano or Pecorino Romano. It’s the perfect nosh to a G&T.
Look for both these dishes coming to the menu soon, if they’re not already on there now.
After recently making Stanley Tucci’s version of spaghetti con zucchine at home, but never having actually eaten it in Italy let alone any restaurant anywhere, I was super curious to see what Terra’s version was like. Its Chitarra alla Nerano ($22) was cheesier tasting than my homemade one, and that’s not a bad thing at all. Its foundation is house-made chitarra noodles — spaghetti-like strands cut on guitar-like strings (hence the name) to rough up its texture so sauce clings better. And did it ever. Each toothsome strand was creamy without any cream, just olive oil, pasta cooking water and Pecorino Romano that had emulsified. Thin discs of fried zucchini were tossed throughout. It’s a dish that makes you appreciate how just a few good ingredients can make a simple pasta a standout.
When you see on the menu that the tagliatelle is made with 40(!!!) egg yolks, you know you have to order it. Tagliatelle al Ragu di Terra ($27) are wider flat ribbons that are indeed golden hued from all those yolks and cooked to an al dente yet supple in texture. They get tossed with a thick, delicious ragu of beef and pork, with the meats having been cooked over coal for a layer of smokiness.
Also from the grill, we much enjoyed the Costoletta di Mailale ($34), a hefty Klingeman Family Farms pork chop grilled over the fire, then served sliced with the bone off to the side. The pork was superb — juicy, crusted on the edges, and salted just enough. It was served alongside grilled, tender fennel slices. And yes, if you’re wondering where the picture is of this magnificent cut of pork, there isn’t one, unfortunately. My husband and Hempel dug into so quickly — and who can blame them once it hit the table — that I didn’t get a chance to snap a pic. But take my word, it’s definitely worth ordering.
For dessert, it’s hard to resist the drama of the gelato cart that gets wheeled to your table with a huge bowl of fior de latte front and center. The server will customize the serving ($12) to your liking with Amarena cherries, pistachios, chocolate chips, olive oil or chocolate sauce.
But somehow I actually withstood that temptation to go for the tiramisu instead. Tiramisu della Nonna ($14) gets its own dose of showmanship. The classic tiramisu comes to the table in the shape of a tree stump with a flexible plastic sheet encircling its trunk. The server sets down the plate, then carefully unwraps the plastic, unleashing a cascade of oozy, soft cream that gently falls over the sides like a slow-motion volcano.
Our server couldn’t really explain what was in the soft cream. My guess would be perhaps mascarpone with heavy cream blended in. The center of the tiramisu is slightly frozen, probably all the better to keep its shape. Like any good tiramisu, there’s the tenderness of ladyfingers, the taste of strong coffee, the richness of plenty of mascarpone, and a big dusting of cocoa powder. The flowing creamy topping makes it even more decadent. This is a tiramisu you don’t want to miss.
Yes, Terra is not an easy ticket to land these days. But if you’re fortunate enough to snag a table, you will not regret it.
P.S. Blog reader Harry Wong just gave me the best tip for making jaunts to Eataly at Valley Fair much easier: Drive up to the third floor of the garage, follow the signs to Eataly, and park there. You will be right outside Terra. Genius!