There is something remarkable about Italian food. Even in as elegant a setting as Vito’s Trattoria in San Jose, there is an honest heartiness to the cuisine that gives it comfort food status.
With recipes handed down from owner George Nobile’s Sicilian grandmother and personalized touches like engraved name plaques displayed at the tables of regular customers, Vito’s always makes customers feel like they are surrounded by friends and family.
“It’s just like in the movies, right?” Nobile told San José Spotlight. “You come to the house, and the mama would say, ‘Come on, eat!’ And she wouldn’t skimp. People tell me our portions are too big, but if I reduced them, my mama would roll in her grave.”
Nobile’s path to Vito’s was a circuitous one, spending 14 years in the ultrasound business before becoming the general manager of a motorcycle company. He was on track for stock options and an easy life… until the business crashed and burned.
“I had always wanted to get into the restaurant business,” he said, “but I was ready to go back into the medical field. My brother Gary told me, ‘You’re 48 years old—if you don’t follow your dream now, you never will.’”
After being advised to work in a restaurant for a few months to test the waters, he sought out Vito’s founder Herb Shattuck and asked for work.
“I told Herb that my goal was simply to observe and learn,” he said. “That was at the beginning of February 2005. By mid-March, he was asking me if I wanted to buy the place. And by July 1, I owned it.”
Not being a chef himself, Nobile surrounded himself with the best cooks and staff he could find and allowed them to flourish without his interference.
“In business, you learn to focus on your core competencies and do them well,” he said. “Anything that’s outside of your core, you hire good people and get out of their way.”
Keeping Shattuck’s core menu of seafood, steaks and pasta, Nobile started upping the menu with classics like eggplant parmesan, which is based on his grandmother’s recipe and was a favorite of his father’s.
“We cook it in trays like lasagna, then cool it down to cure it,” he said, “My grandmother taught my mom how to make it. We have it because my sister Donna went on a crash course to learn all my mom’s recipes before she died.”
The eggplant is also a favorite of Donna Broderson, who has been a regular customer since Nobile bought the place.
“I’m Italian,” she said, “and the way they cook the eggplant is completely different than any other I’ve ever had, and the red sauce is amazing. I don’t know how they do it—he gave me the recipe under the table, and I still can’t make it the way he does.”
Nobile favors the pounded-thin chicken marsala, served with fettuccine and a deep brown sauce that is loaded with mushrooms. It is another one of his mother’s recipes and a best seller at the restaurant.
Vito’s is also known for its extensive fresh fish menu, particularly the halibut. It is currently offered as a special, pan-seared and blackened, then topped with an aromatic passion fruit gastrique and served with creamy risotto, fresh heirloom tomatoes and sauteed spinach.
Customer Shirley Cantua has been coming to Vito’s almost every Friday night since it opened. She said she has seen it grow from when there were only four customers a night to now when it is always filled to capacity.
“The staff is wonderful, and one of the waiters we have known for 20 years,” she said. “We travel a lot, and we’ve had Italian food in other states and countries. Hands down, by far, Vito’s has the best. We tell everybody we can about them.”
Contact Robert Eliason at [email protected].
Editor’s Note: The Biz Beat is a series highlighting local small businesses and restaurants in Silicon Valley. Know a business you’d like to see featured? Let us know at [email protected].
90 Skyport Drive in San Jose
Monday – Friday Lunch: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Monday – Thursday Dinner: 4:30-8 p.m.
Friday: 4:30-8:30 p.m.
Saturday: 5-8:30 p.m.
Vito’s also offers the Tuscany Room, a private banquet hall that can seat up to 32 people with a choice of three dinner menus, a lunch menu and a buffet.