Gianni Bartoletti: What I’ve Learned in Restaurants
As told to Ethan Fletcher
Courtesy of Cody Pickens
For Gianni Bartoletti, the last few years have been as drama filled as an Italian opera. After cutting his teeth in San Francisco, he opened Incontro Ristorante in 2006, drawing raves and crowds of diners despite its off-the-beaten-path San Ramon location. He then followed his dream, helping move the restaurant to a splashy new downtown Danville locale. While that also did well, Bartoletti decided to part ways with Incontro and return to his humble San Ramon roots, where he recently opened Gianni’s Italian Bistro. Here’s what Bartoletti has learned about life in the Tri-Valley restaurant scene.
On returning to the original location: I shocked a lot of people; I shocked myself. I think sometimes we don’t realize how fortunate we are before we change things, but I’m blessed that I was granted another chance to come back where everything started. I’m a very, very lucky man.
On working the front of the house: I’m a person who can’t stay still, so I like to walk around to talk and try to find out what’s going on with people. Everyone has something to offer; everyone has a story, and if I can get a glimpse into that, why not?
On his love of food: In Italy, everyone has a table in the kitchen. … It’s a happy environment where you’re feeding yourself and you’re feeding your soul. I’ll tell you, sometimes when I cook at home and everything is done, I don’t even eat because the whole thing is so satisfying.
On the move to the bigger restaurant: The idea for the original was born with a small restaurant in mind, where everybody touches everybody and helps out at every table. When we moved, I found myself running a 200-seat restaurant, and there isn’t time for entertaining customers, just making sure everything is running smoothly.
On moving to the United States: I liked the U.S. attitude because people are friendly. In Europe, people are more skeptical; they take their time to get to know someone. For me, that’s just wasting your time. We only live 100 years, right?
On the future: The only thing I can tell you is that I’m glad to be back. We’re here to be part of the community and as much as we can, give them a little piece of Italy.
2065 San Ramon Valley Blvd., San Ramon, (925) 820-6969, giannissanramon.com.
Uno, Due, Tre...
Three other new East Bay spots to satisfy your Italian cravings.
Former Caffe Delle Stelle owner Hugo Boye is bringing back favorites such as hearty pasta rustica: orecchiette with caramelized onions, potatoes, sage, and truffle oil. Tip: Boye was born in Italy but grew up in Chile, so don’t sleep on South American specialties like empanadas and lomo saltado.
1403 Locust St., Walnut Creek, (925) 988-0604, stellebistro.com.
A collaboration between Oakland hot spots Chop Bar and Grand Tavern, Lungomare replaced Miss Pearl’s Restaurant and Lounge in Jack London Square, bringing fresh pastas, wood oven–fired pizzas, and a focus on Northern Italian specialties. Tip: While many of the ingredients are sourced locally, the wine list is mostly Italian— including a selection of hard-to-find Ligurian labels.
1 Broadway, Oakland, (510) 444-7171, lungomareoakland.com.
A more casual complement to next-door’s hugely popular Comal, this breezy Italian eatery offers made-from-scratch Italian with a California cuisine bent in Berkeley’s hopping downtown. Tip: Belli’s streamlined menu puts the focus on ravioli, with at least three specials nightly.
2016 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, (510) 704-1902, belliosteria.com.
And coming soon:
Look for three new outposts of popular existing Italian eateries set to open later this spring: Baci Bistro in Danville, Mangia Mi in Pleasanton, and A16 in Oakland’s Rockridge district.