Contrary to the real estate truism of location, location, location, Gianni Bartoletti believes when it comes to restaurants it’s the food, food and food that brings in the customers.
He’s been demonstrating that at 2065 San Ramon Valley Boulevard near the Danville/San Ramon border since 2009. Gianni’s Italian Bistro is located just north of the Brass Door, a San Ramon Valley institution. Both seem out-of-place in an area with plenty of auto service shops and other businesses that do not rely on foot traffic. A German car repair shop shares the driveway with Gianni’s and has its building directly behind the restaurant.
The unusual location is nothing new to Gianni, who successfully operated a restaurant here for two years before selling it and opening a new eatery in downtown Danville.
When that partnership ended, he and Melanie purchased back Gianni’s and opened it in 2009. He knows that he will not get any walk-up diners, so people will come for the food. And they certainly do that.
They live in the area and are committed to the community. Monday evenings are dedicated to Tips for Change where they invite a non-profit group to serve diners that evening and keep the tips plus 10 percent of the proceeds.
We dined there on a Tuesday night where guests ranged from couples to families to a couple of business dinners. Given the caliber of the dishes we were served, everyone was in for a great treat.
We left the food and wine up to Gianni, asking him to let the kitchen show off. He did just that, taking us on a culinary tour of Italy from north to south. He paired wines from the regions with each dish.
He started us with Bresaola, sliver-sliced beef Prosciutto that was air-cured and imported from Italy. It was served over wild arugula with shaved Parmigiano cheese and a drizzle of white truffle olive oil. Simply delightful—a perfect light starter. The wine was a sparkling Prosecco from Zardetto from Veneto.
Gianni then turned to classic comfort food from Northern Italy that was superbly executed. A creamy polenta with Fontina and Gorgonzola cheese, highlighted by fresh mushrooms. The pairing was a 2014 Bell Colle Barbera from the Piemonte region. We would have finished (devoured) this wonderful dish, but Gianni advised saving room for what was to follow so we packed half of it for the next day. When we return, I will be balancing my choice to be sure to include the polenta, likely to share. If you finish the entire portion, you’d be better really hungry or you are going to be happy with just a salad or soup.
Gianni then took our dining tour to Tuscany for Shrimpanesca, homemade Fettuccine with capers, anchovies, olives and Gulf shrimp all bathed in a spicy (it was zippy) tomato sauce. The noodles were cooked perfectly al dente and complemented nicely by the shrimp and the sauce.
It was matched with a 2015 Majonorante Sangiovese from the Umbria region. The red stood up nicely to the spicy sauce and complemented the dish well.
We then moved to one of my favorite dishes, a Veal Piccata that was not on the menu. A Scaloppine was offered. The veal, a superbly tender piece that ranked among the best I have enjoyed, was prepared simply with lemon and capers. It was accompanied by roasted small potatoes and broccoli rabe. It was a wonderful dish.
Gianni paired it with a 2013 Tenute Rubino Primitivo from the Puglia region, another well-balanced red.
He then surprised us by serving another pasta course—Gnocchi with Black Truffle and Fontina cheese sauce. He said it could start or finish the meal. Wonderfully light and stunningly tasty—a definite re-order and the highlight of an evening filled with excellent dishes. Gianni selected at 2015 Priluis Cabernet from Toscana—it is unusual to find an Italian Cabernet, but this one complemented the heavenly Gnocchi perfectly.
Fortunately, Gianni selected a light dessert, a lemon gelato imported from Italy, drizzled with raspberry sauce. It was accompanied by Tartufo Limoncello and provided a perfect end to a wonderful meal. (Main photo).
The wine list is entirely Italian ranging from $29 to $100 with most between $30 and $50. There is a full bar with house cocktails.
The entrees were just five when we dined: pan-roasted free-range chicken breast; veal scaloppini; cioppino, Stracotto, slow-braised beef short ribs; and Anatra, pan-seared duck breast (priced from $23 to $29, all with vegetable and pasta)
Eight pastas ($17 to $19) and nine starters/small plates ($6 to $13) were also offered plus the desserts.
To encourage Sunday diners, the bistro offers a $25 three-course meal that changes weekly.
After our experience, we will put Gianni’s on our A-list for Italian restaurants. Ignore the location—the food and experience makes it a destination.
By Tim Hunt