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Suburban Trattoria

Christopher Gardner

Oh, Brothers: Co-owners and brothers-in-law Vince Battaglia and Pasquale Piazza deliver affordable pizza and pasta.

A neighborhood can't be complete without great pasta. Luckily, Willow Glen has Fratello's

By Andrew Pham

SOMETIMES, after a grueling day, all we want to do is curl up in front of the tube with a mindless action-thriller video, a good bottle of Chianti and a real Sicilian pizza pie pumped full of fresh marinara. That's why we think every neighborhood ought to have a place like Fratello's, an around-the-corner joint where the kitchen isn't much bigger than the average-sized chef.

With chef and co-owner Pasquale Piazza at the stove, Fratello's is a fledgling bound for success. Just a hop from downtown Willow Glen, the restaurant is carving a cozy niche right next to a video store. Despite its strip-mall front, the long, narrow space has been transformed into an inviting room with a few touches: white linens, painted stenciling and a handful of inexpensive plaster sculptures.

Our serious waitress brings an irresistibly chewy hunk of ciabatta from Kelly's Bakery, and we entertain ourselves by drizzling pieces of the bread with olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette. Even after eight months in business, Fratello's waitstaff--though friendly--is still fairly green and not entirely tuned to the menu, not surprising given that the restaurant appears to be jockeying for a middle position in the culinary chain--not a famous cross-town destination but rather a local favorite.

A glance at the wine list told us we were in good hands. The house stocks a smart sampling of California and Italian wines at $18 to $25 a bottle, some very suitable choices for casual trattoria food. We opted for a modest yet savory '95 Côtes de Sonoma cabernet sauvignon and a standard '95 Gonfalone chianti ($3.95 per glass), both quite equal to the occasion. For our money, the San Felice Il Grigio Chianti Classico Riserva ($28 per bottle) defines exactly what a good chianti ought to be.

Modest and pasta-oriented, the menu suggests shorter, one- or two-course meals. Starters here are run-of-the-mill billings: steamed clams, eggplant Parmigiana, antipasto, calamari and polenta. At $3.50 to $3.95, the salads (house, spinach and Caesar) pose the best bargain for kicking off a meal. The Caesar is a gorgeous harvest of romaine decorated with sliced garlic, a moon of grilled eggplant and a dusting of herbs and Parmesan.

Chef Pasquale Piazza delivers with verve in the pasta and pizza departments. His noodle portions can feed a marathoner, and his 10-inch pizza easily serves two. Although the crust, firm with golden contours, was a primo example of pizza baking, the fresh marinara sauce, naturally sweet and chunky, wins the ribbon for uniqueness. Light and rich with fresh-off-the-vine flavors, this blushing red marinara presented a versatile canvas for a number of toppings. We enjoyed a combo of anchovies, onions and fresh tomato that was notches above its low $8.25 price tag in quality. And the best thing: These lovely pies are available to go.

Fusilli alla Bolognese ($8.95) cooled our ardor with overcooked pasta in a creamy but dull meat sauce. With neither depth nor finesse, it is best suited for the middle-school and younger crowd.

Other dishes are much better, however: Linguine alla Fratello's ($9.95) explodes with a combination of basil and garlic, and ticker tapes of sundried tomatoes add a zippy tang to the mellow pesto linguine--definitely a dish that requires two glasses of wine.

Pancetta, garlic and cayenne pepper enliven the linguine carbonara ($8.95), and a nice white sauce--winey and buttery, with a mere hint of creaminess--couples nicely with chopped clams in the linguine con vongole ($10.95). Linguine del Mar ($11.95) goes one better than the above dish with mussels and baby shrimps.

What more can one ask for in a neighborhood restaurant? Fratello's sets a consistent, friendly table, just right for evenings when a bowl of pasta--or a Sicilian anchovy pizza--and a glass of vino make a meal complete.

Enders are a fairly good tiramisu with brandy-rich ladyfingers and icy mascarpone cheese, and store-bought ice cream targeted at kiddies


Address: 1712-F Meridian Ave., San Jose
Phone: 408/269-3801
Hours: lunch Tue.­Fri. 11:30am­2pm; dinner Mon.­Thu. 5­9pm, Fri.­Sat. 5­10pm
Cuisine: Sicilian
Price: lunch $6­$9, dinner entrees $8­$12
Ambiance: neighborhood casual with rendezvous potential

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From the June 26-July 2, 1997 issue of Metro.

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