After two and a half years of planning, Rollati Ristorante has already established itself as a destination restaurant in the two weeks since its mid-September opening.
Offering an elegant twist on classic Italian-American cuisine in downtown San Jose, it is the newest of the Vine Hospitality Group’s restaurants, which include Santana Row mainstays Left Bank, L.B. Steak and Meso Modern Mediterranean.
“We wanted to bring some East Coast ingredients out here to the West Coast,” Chef Sam Gimlewicz told San José Spotlight. “So we’ve got clam pizza and linguine alle vongole, but we have the classic Italian dishes as well.”
Gimlewicz, who developed Rollati’s menu, is Vine CEO Obadiah Ostergard’s nephew. Watching Anthony Bourdain’s travel and food shows sparked his interest in cooking at age 15. He started cooking at a restaurant a year later.
A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, his uncle hired him at age 21, and over the last six years he has worked at all eight of the Vine-owned restaurants—the only person in the company to do that so far.
“I was a young sous chef when I started,” he said, “and moving around really kept me involved and interested. I can do things now that I never imagined, and without this experience in my life, I don’t think I’d be the chef that I am today.”
While his first job was in a Mexican-American restaurant, he has worked almost exclusively in Italian cuisine. He said the appeal is being able to work with some of the finest ingredients in the world.
“Cooking well with such great products is honestly not such a hard thing,” he said. “You don’t need to do much to it to make it taste delicious. It’s pretty easy just to put it on the plate, and it’s bound to look beautiful and taste delicious with some simple tweaks.”
A good example is Rollati’s butterflied chicken parmigiana. Gimlewicz melts the mozzarella fondue-style and ladles it over the dish before serving to prevent the chicken from getting soggy. It still has a beautiful melted color, but the breading remains delightfully crisp.
Gimlewicz also put his own spin on one of the restaurant’s instant customer favorites: the Spicy Pie, a house-made thin-crust pizza covered with tomato sauce, soppressata and mozzarella, then baked in an 800-degree oven. When it comes out, it’s topped with basil and a drizzle of honey infused with Calabrian chili. The warm and viscous honey makes the savory dish a wild combination of sweet and heat that is irresistible.
Emphasizing the freshness of the pasta, the restaurant is designed with a window into the kitchen so customers can watch it being made and cut.
The pasta is the star of the spaghetti alla limone, another popular dish. Fresh lemon zest and lemon juice are incorporated into a cream-based sauce and then thickened with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. It’s served over spaghetti and topped with crunchy breadcrumbs. The flavor notes and texture hint at the richness of a warm lemon cheesecake, and the sauce goes perfectly with add-ons like lobster tail or Dungeness crab.
Rabbit agrodolce is General Manager Drianna Cardarelli’s favorite dish.
“It is a really nice spin on a classic dish,” she told San José Spotlight. “The sauce is sweet and sour and goes very well with the crispy rabbit. And then the polenta, pine nuts and currants pull it all together.”
The reasonable price points of the dishes are appealing—not something you would expect from either the elegance of the decor or the restaurant’s prime location on the ground floor of one of the Miro residential towers directly across from San Jose City Hall. The pricing strategy, according to Cardarelli, is intended to keep from scaring off customers.
“Our dishes are comfort food with simple ingredients,” she said, “but we make them with love, and we want the prices to be inviting. We look more to elevating pricing with our wine offerings and cocktails, and I would love to become one of San Jose’s downtown bar scenes.”
The walls of Rollati Ristorante display a large selection of domestic and Italian wines, and the bar serves a line of specially curated cocktails. Gimlewicz recommends the heirloom tomato martini featuring olive oil, washed Hanson’s Original Vodka, heirloom tomatoes and a dash of white balsamic vinegar.
For a restaurant that has only been open for a few weeks, Cardarelli said the feedback from residents has been positive.
“We don’t have a lot of walk-in traffic right now,” she said. “We worked hard getting ready to open and everyone so far seems to be enjoying the food and the service. I think you can feel the spirit of the place when you walk in.”
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].