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Photograph by Chris Revell

Not Bottled Up: Live music on the weekends is just one of the ways Maurizio's keeps its intimate individuality.

What's in a Name

At Maurizio's Authentic Italian Ristorante, the real flavor is the personality of Maurizio himself

By Aaron Robinson

GENERALLY, it's not a good sign when a restaurant includes the word "authentic" in its name. The practice smacks of protesting too much. But Maurizio's Authentic Italian Ristorante in Morgan Hill is certainly authentic. Not only does the menu reflect the cuisine of owner Maurizio Cutrignelli's hometown of Bari, the restaurant itself mirrors Maurizio's theatrical character.

Too many restaurants tend to play it cool when it comes to hosting their patrons. Not Maurizio's. The moment my guest and I stepped foot through the door, we could feel owner, chef, server and bartender Cutrignelli's warm and cheerful hospitality--an experience refreshingly ethnic.

A wooden partition separated Maurizio's intimate dining room from the large bar. Two overhead TVs (one playing the sports channel; the other, the food network) offered entertainment. A corner stage hosts live Italian music on Thursday nights and jazz on Friday and Saturday nights. In the restrooms, taped Italian language courses play over the sound system.

The bread service impressed me right off the bat: oven-hot ciabatta accompanied by heavenly garlic- and herb-infused extra-virgin olive oil splashed with balsamic vinegar--a fragrant collaboration of tang and spice. The Italian wines by the glass did not interest me, so I chose the ever-reliable 1999 Ducale Chianti ($38) by the bottle, a vintage that balances the rich fruit of a California wine with the cool, dry finish of a classic Italian Chianti.

Maurizio's difficulty in recommending antipasti arose from his genuine enthusiasm for the dishes--to him, they were all perfect. After much discussion and arm twisting, we went ahead and ordered the Rotolini di Melanzane ($7), two slices of rolled, fried eggplant stuffed with cream cheese and basil, covered in crisp mozzarella and saturated in steaming hot tomato sauce. The rotolini appeared heavy, but the firm eggplant and superlight sauce, which tasted of puréed fresh tomatoes, went down smoothly. Our other antipasti, the Carpaccio di Manzo ($7), consisted of thinly sliced raw beef filet sprinkled with chopped red onion, capers, olive oil and lemon juice; the promised Parmesan was absent. Lemon was the predominant flavor, used so generously that I found it difficult to appreciate the other components.

Deciding on a primi piatti was even more difficult. Maurizio offered up alternative dishes, none of which were on the menu. A half-order of the Ravioli di Mare ($15) finally won out: sun-dried tomato pasta filled with an unidentifiable seafood combination lightly dressed in a rich pesto and gorgonzola cream sauce. Though there were some intense and tasty flavors happening, the heavy salt and sharp richness urged us to concede and move on.

Forty-five minutes passed before our entrees arrived, but Maurizio entertained us so that we almost didn't notice. Almost. A few bites into the Filet Mignon al Casino ($26) I found myself wondering
why the menu recommends rare to medium-rare when, even if you agree, it still arrives medium to medium-well? The dish's brandy, mushroom, gorgonzola cream sauce was tainted by the heavy charcoal flavor of the filet.

The Vitello Saltimbocca ($18) was another story. Tender veal medallions pounded and rolled with crisp prosciutto, melted mozzarella and fresh sage rested in a thick, savory pool of Marsala reduction. Perfection. Herby, roasted russets and buttery sautéed green beans accompanied both dishes.

Maurizio's dessert selections were offered by word of mouth. A hollowed-out lemon filled with lemon sorbet and a classic cannoli (both $6) sounded the most promising of the four listed. The cannoli was a single shell filled with pastry cream and chocolate chips. It tasted like a crisp cookie-dough donut. The sorbet was simply lemon ice--tart and refreshing. Both desserts were painfully underpresented--no sauce and no sprigs, just powdered sugar.

But Maurizio's isn't about the sprigs--it's about the personality. If you don't mind forgoing upscale epicurism, you'll enjoy the warm service and atmosphere of this family-style ristorante.

Maurizio's Authentic Italian Ristorante
Address: 17535 Monterey Rd., Morgan Hill
Phone: 408.782.7550
Hours: Lunch 11:30am-2pm Mon-Fri; dinner 5-9pm Mon-Thu, 5-10pm Fri-Sat; closed Sun
Full bar

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From the March 13-19, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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