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[whitespace] Cafe Maremonti
Photograph by George Sakkestad

A Toast to the Coast: Sunny Mediterranean flavors and expert service are the crowning touch of a dining experience at Palo Alto's Cafe Maremonti.

Regional Charm

Graced with Mediterranean appointments and a sensuous menu, Cafe Maremonti aims to charm one and all

By Christina Waters

THE NEW LIGHT at the top of California Avenue feels distinctly Mediterranean, thanks to restaurateur Ismail Jan Unlu, who recently added Cafe Maremonti to his string of peninsula dining rooms. Fueled by the expansive culinary explorations of chef Gaetano Patrinostro, Cafe Maremonti is poised to charm its clientele. The expert wait staff adds to this welcoming ambience, as does the understated coziness of the former Chez Sophie rooms. A tiny wine bar fronts the main dining area, where Italy's various regions--notably the coastline and the verdant slopes (hence maremonti) are portrayed in delightful murals. The sunny, Tuscan gold wainscoting is dotted by fanciful faience ornaments and plates playfully festooned with fruit. Dean Martin croons velvety enticements in the background--Kathryn and I succumbed immediately to the atmosphere, attention and lavishly linened tables. Freshly created bread sticks and foccacia didn't hurt one bit, especially after a dipping into some garlicky olive oil.

My compliments to the winemakers at Lolonis Winery for a handsomely rustic 1998 Zinfandel ($8.50/gl) overflowing with blackberries and spice. Zin is one of my top choices to accompany the lusty flavors of Italian cookery, and this beauty simply reinforced that opinion.

An appetizer of sea scallops napped with lemon zest and white wine arrived, the moist shellfish ringing a mound of delicious cremini mushrooms and flash-fried leeks, each scallop dotted with rosy aioli ($12.95). Kathryn's "tricolore" salad of baby arugula and endive was accented by a crown of crimson shredded radicchio, shaved Parmesan and pungent mustard vinaigrette ($7.95). These fine openers set the tone for the evening. The kitchen at Cafe Maremonti is dedicated to making an impression. And it did, with an appealing balance of substance and style. Fresh ingredients and artistic, yet not artful, presentation powered each dish we sampled.

My entree of delicate hand-shaped ravioli involved a tender ricotta and spinach filling and a light saucing of cream and pesto ($15.95). The flavors were so authentic I almost became fluent in Italian. Kathryn's osso bucco arrived at the table with a flourish, lots of playful cross-cultural banter on the part of our handsome server and a fabulous aroma ($18). Lovely red potatoes and green beans were organized at one edge of the plate, next to the moist veal shank smothered in a tomato-intensive sauce. We wondered why the kitchen had decided to add mashed potatoes to this countryside staple. Despite the tomato overload, the dish was quite tasty.

Desserts at Cafe Maremonti proved that Italian dining is more than just al dente pasta and slow-roasted meats. Several beautiful fresh tortes were brought by our table to tempt and dazzle. And dazzle they did. We immediately opted for a slice of each of the evening's specialties--an almond torte thickly topped with dark chocolate mousse and shaved chocolate, and a ricotta lemon cheesecake (both $6.50). They proved to be the superstars of this satisfying meal.

Kathryn couldn't believe the satiny texture of the luxurious chocolate. It so lived up to the entire mythology of chocolate that I, not usually among the world's raving chocoholics, couldn't put down my fork. The lovely torta came on a plate needlessly decorated with one of those ubiquitous latticework pools of crème anglaise and berry coulis. OK, it was better than most, and the berry sauce wielded a likeable liqueur kick. My lemony cheesecake, all dense and moist with tangy ricotta, actually arrived at the table slightly warm from the oven. I was disarmed by that bit of home-cooking voodoo. The seduction was further enhanced by the lovely crust laced with pine nuts and a topknot of perfect raspberries. We toasted our incredibly satisfying desserts with tiny glasses of house Silan muscat ($5)--which sipped more like a Vin Santo than a thick, syrupy muscat canelli. Despite the abundant flavor information, our Cafe Maremonti experience felt harmonious.

Cafe Maremonti
Address: 201 California Ave., Palo Alto
Phone: 650.322.8586
Hours: Open 7 days for dinner; Mon-Fri lunch; Sat and Sun brunch 9:30am-3pm
Executive Chef: Gaetano Patrinostro
Price Range: Moderate

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From the February 22-28, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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