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Edible Opera

[whitespace] Don Giovanni's
Christopher Gardner

Glass Act: Waiter Guliano contributes to the charm of Don Giovanni's, as good as its namesake at romancing patrons.

Don Giovanni's is a breath of authenticity in a teeming sea of Mediterranean cookery

By Christina Waters

SPLASH SOME cream into a Tuscan sunset and you'll have the exact shade of the walls surrounding Don Giovanni's main dining area. Freed of decorator fuss, the spare, warm room lets the food take the stage. And it does in grand-opera style.

Waiters, the kind whose skill and sensitive timing indicate a genuine calling to their profession, orchestrate the meals in this superb new Italian dining room. The menu practically sings with appetizing antipasti, a legion of full-bodied pastas, classic grilled poultry, veal and seafood and aromatic ideas from the rotisserie spit. It is a joyful prospect, robust with garlic, basil, capers, olives and cheeses.

From chianti to gelato, Don Giovanni's charmed us, just as the restaurant's namesake charmed his conquests.

A deliciously chewy Italian bread, glistening with fruity olive oil, balsamic vinegar and garlic, flirted nicely with the trusty Ruffino Chianti Classico Riserva 1994 ($30) selected from a nonthreatening listing of Italian and California wines.

Finding it impossible not to feel romantic in this setting, we surrendered to the place, ordering some voluptuous gnocchi alla Piemontese to split as an appetizer ($9.95) and another starter of melanzana all'agro dolce ($6.95).

The eggplant creation was gorgeous, a few cubes of feta melting atop slabs of roasted eggplant. Capers, kalamata olives and sun-dried tomatoes, all enriched by a sweet and pungent balsamic sauce, made magic with the expertly cooked eggplant. Every flavor worked together; nothing shouted. "The dish has dimension," Tonio observed, noting a touch of mustard inflecting the sauce. Our waiter--a dead ringer for Cesar Romero--looked on, smiling, approving. Attentive without any hint of pressure or condescension. We adored him.

Arriving as a celestial gift from the school of full-bodied gnocchi, our potato dumplings arrived attractively split into two deep bowls, topped with a light dusting of Parmigiano reggiano and a sprig of basil. Each pliant biteful was dressed in a sage-perfumed marinara sauce. Glorious. Tonio grinned and whispered something about "better than the ones in L.A."

At exactly the moment they were wanted, our entrées arrived. My companion's order of grilled swordfish ($17.95) came to the table beautifully constructed. Two steaks--tender, almost fragile--had been topped with a caper and olive-intensive marinara and joined by potatoes that Tonio was still talking about two weeks later. "These potatoes are out of sight," he said, dropping his patrician pretensions and just plain gushing.

With my portion of half Muscovy duck ($14.95), whose crisp skin conserved a moist, meaty interior, came wonderful green beans and a pool of orange-spiked balsamic sauce. Duck grilled on a rotisserie has matchless flavor and bears trace elements of some primal, wood-fired hearth. The excellent chianti paced us well throughout the meal: We also consumed copious quantities of San Pellegrino water--almost required sipping with high-intensity Mediterranean foods.

We both joined decaf cappuccinos with a pretty portion of very creamy chocolate gelato ($3.25). The espresso drinks proved mysteriously weak, the only misstep in an otherwise glorious meal ($2.50 each). Like the flaw in the Navajo blanket, the cappuccinos highlighted the surrounding landscape, a wonderful meal beautifully served in vivacious surroundings. Saturated with memorable flavors and harmonies of flavors within each expertly constructed dish, the dinner offered a mini-renaissance of its genre.

Though Italian eateries are springing up like clockwork all over, Don Giovanni's is no cliché. It underscores the whole point of the gratifying trend. This food is fun to eat, affordable and sensuously satisfying. Is there any other point to dining out?

Don Giovanni's
Cuisine: Classic Italian
Ambiance: Contemporary urban trattoria
Menu: Moderately priced
Hours: Mon.-Fri. 5-10pm; Sat.-Sun. 11am-11pm
Address: 235 Castro St., Mountain View
Phone: 650/961-9749

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From the February 5-11, 1998 issue of Metro.

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